History at Main & Jewett: The Chapins, The Jewetts, and the Willow Lawn Subdivision

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Willow Lawn is a short street with a long history.

Elam Jewett, Buffalo publisher. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Like the rest of the southern two-thirds of Parkside, the properties on Willow Lawn were once a part of newspaper publisher Elam Jewett’s Willow Lawn farm and estate, most of which was sold in part to the city for Delaware Park and in part to the Parkside Improvement Company (and others) for development into the Parkside neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Elam Jewett died in 1887, but until his widow’s death in 1901, Mrs. Caroline Jewett retained the family home at the corner of Main and Jewett Parkway and parcel between School 54 and the parkway which bore the family name.

This ad appeared in the Buffalo Evening News in 1901.

Shortly after the death of Mrs. Elam Jewett, her home at the corner of Main Street and Jewett Parkway was put up for sale. It was rented out as a temporary residence during the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. William P. Northrup was Jewett’s nephew, and lived in another grand Parkside residence which is no longer standing– on the southwest corner of Jewett and Crescent, where Hillside Children’s Center now stands. (Buffalo Stories archives)

To take a step back, the history of Willow Lawn goes back another century or so to the earliest days of Buffalo, when the Parkside area– far outside the village and then city limits– was known as the Buffalo Plains.

The Willow Lawn Estate, as the house stood at Main & Jewett around 1905. Home to The Jewetts and The Chapins, it was celebrated as one of Buffalo’s most beautiful and palatial homes in the second half of the 19th Century. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Dr. Daniel Chapin was among the area’s most sought-after medical professionals when he moved to the rugged frontier that was Buffalo in 1807. He built a rustic log cabin on his 175-acre farm on the Buffalo Plains stretched from what is now Main Street west back through Delaware Park, The Buff State campus, and the Richardson Complex property.

Chapin traveled on foot between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with little more than his dog, his gun, and the tools of his medical trade. He was a naturalist and insisted on keeping the natural plant life on his farm in as natural a state as possible. We have him to thank for the native beauty of the area of his land that is today Delaware Park.

During the War of 1812, part of the Chapin farm also acted as an encampment for soldiers who had come from the south to defend the nation’s border at Buffalo. Many of those men died of exposure and disease, and at least 300 of them remain interred in the part of Daniel Chapin’s backyard where he helped bury them– in the Mound in the Meadow underneath the Delaware Park golf course.

Chapin’s son was commander in the militia of Erie County during the War of 1812, and around 1820, Col. William W. Chapin built the family a larger log cabin much closer to what is today the corner of Main and Jewett.

Barton Atkins drew the Chapin log cabin from memory many years later. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Barton Atkins, a prolific writer who grew up in the Buffalo Plains, had great memories of playing with Col. Chapin’s son Harold on the property he remembered well during the 1820s and 1830s.

A primitive home of a pioneer farmer, a log dwelling, the yard dotted with trees indigenous to the soil, and enclosed with a rail fence. The barns, corn-cribs, sheds stored with farm implements all in plain view. Multitudes of domestic fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens. peacocks, and guinea hens, rambling about, the pastures alive with horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and goats; the whole presenting a scene decidedly rural.

-Barton Atkins, describing the scene at what is now Main & Jewett in the 1820s

Col. Chapin’s 1820 log cabin was expanded and encompassed by a home that was larger and more aesthetically pleasing as the years went by. the place became known as Willow Lawn, named after the many willows planted by Dr. Chapin on the property.

By the time Elam Jewett purchased the Willow Lawn estate in 1864, he was one of Buffalo’s leading citizens. The lifelong Republican and publisher of the Commercial Advertiser newspaper was close friends with Millard Fillmore.

Fillmore and Jewett traveled through Europe together in 1856, and it was likely in Europe that Jewett was introduced to “the love apple,” today known as tomatoes. The tomatoes Jewett grew at Willow Lawn were thought to be the first tomatoes grown in Buffalo.

In the run up to the Civil War, Jewett and the Commercial Advertiser took a hard line against slavery. This sentiment may have been overplayed in a grand-niece’s retelling of the Jewett story in the Courier-Express in 1941. Along side several other over-statements of fact, “a concealed subterranean room” at Jewett homestead is mentioned as a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad.

The first and only appearance of this story of Elam Jewett’s home being a stop on the Underground Railroad comes in the 1940s, making it seem that it’s likely apocryphal. (Buffalo Stories archives)

It’s mentioned here primarily to debunk it– in hundreds of pages read on Jewett and Willow Lawn, and tens of thousands of pages read on the history of the Parkside area, I’ve never seen another reference to the Underground Railroad outside this one article, again, with a descendant speaking 80 years after the Civil War as a source.

Before his death in 1887, Jewett gave the Episcopal Church the land for the Church of the Good Shepherd, and donated most of the cost of it’s construction.

Elam Jewett donated the land to build what was originally a chapel to the memory of his friend and priest, Edward Ingersoll. This is the preliminary drawing of The Church of the Good Shepherd by Marley and Burnett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1892, Mrs. Jewett donated land to the City of Buffalo for Public School 54– known for many years as “The Parkside School.” That school was built on the land currently occupied by the present School 54’s parking lot.

The original School 54 stood on land donated by the Jewett family on what is now the current School 54’s parking lot. The current School 54 stands on the site of what was the Peter Hagner Dairy from 1909-1964. (Buffalo Stories archives)
The Peter Hagner Dairy stood on the site of the current School 54 from 1909-64. 1910 ad. Bill Blake, a long time Parkside resident, collector of stories, and great storyteller himself, remembers that there were cows at the dairy up until the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In the following years, the Willow Lawn Estate would be opened to the public in raising money for the church and the school. The Beltline trains and Cold Spring horse-cars were listed as convenient modes of transportation for folks visiting Willow Lawn for one such fundraiser in 1889.

The Jewett Era on Jewett Parkway came to a close with the death of Elam’s widow in 1901. Buffalo Courier obituary. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The life of Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Jewett , filled with years and graced with all womanly virtues, came to an end at 8 o’clock last evening, when she passed away at the family home, Willow Lawn.

In 1905, Jewett’s heirs split off the southern most part of the remaining Willow Lawn parcel for new development.

“The magnificent homestead lands of the Jewetts, at Main Street and Jewett Avenue, have been subdivided and are now offered for sale to parties
desiring home-sites in an exclusive, scenic section,” read one ad.

Another touted the “euphoniously titled” Willow Lawn’s “semi-private park style” in “the most beautiful section of the city.”

Willow Lawn, 1906. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Beautiful Willow Lawn Homestead, corner of Main Street and Jewett Avenue, has been subdivided and placed with us for sale. A new street, 70 feet wide, has been opened from Main Street to Crescent Avenue. Sewer and water pipes laid on each side are already in, and the pavement nearly finished. The lots are being sold under restrictions for residential purposes only, making some of the most desirable home sites in the Parkside District. Nearly one-half of these lots have been sold, so it is up to you to hurry if you want a lot in this desirable subdivision, the highest and healthiest section in the city where attractive surroundings are assured at a very low price.

“As a setting for a fine piece of domestic architecture,” the Buffalo Courier reported, “the site is ideal.” All but two of the lots on the street had homes built on them by 1911, and the last home was built on Willow Lawn in 1917.

As homes were being built in the “Willow Lawn subdivision,” the buildings of the original Willow Lawn estate– including the home of the Chapins and Jewetts– still stood at the corner of Main & Jewett.

Willow Lawn’s final hurrah would be as the home of a newly formed school based on learning from nature while in nature.

In 1913, after a year on Bird Avenue on the West Side, The Park School and it’s open-air approach to learning took over the last vestige of Daniel Chapin’s estate 106 years after he first built a log cabin there.

Outdoor classes for the Park School at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Park School became a nationally renown beacon of progressive education.

Central Presbyterian Church, now the Aloma B. Johnson Charter School, can be seen in the background as children repair an animal house as part of their school day at The Park School. (Buffalo Stories archives)

For nearly a decade, children walked the same grounds Barton Atkins talked about 100 years earlier. Not confined to desks, children often weren’t even confined to indoors– with classrooms built in tree houses and screened bungalows. Days were often spent outside, even in the dead of winter, with the pupils warmly cocooned in woolen sleeping bags for lectures.

Outdoor fun for Park School students at Main & Jewett. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Willow Lawn home was torn in 1922 after The Park School left for the school’s current home in Snyder. The current apartment buildings on the lot were built shortly thereafter, and available for rent by 1927, as shown in the ad below.

The Jewett Apartments, Jewett Parkway at Main Street. 1927 ad. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

Parkside develops around churches

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Early Catholic Neighbors: St Vincent’s and The Sisters of St. Joseph

While most of the earliest development inside what we know now as Parkside was an effort of mostly wealthy Protestant men, the Main Street corridor leading into the neighborhood was developed in large measure by the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Vincent de Paul church was built in 1864 on Main Street just south of what is now the Kensington Expressway interchange. St Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church was founded by the Rev. Joseph Sorg to serve the German-speaking Catholics who lived in the area. Generations of southern Parksiders attended mass at the church just south of Humboldt Parkway on Main Street until the parish closed in 1993. When St. Mark’s parish was established in 1908, the boundary line was drawn between the two parishes at Jewett Parkway, but was later moved south the West Oakwood Place.

The original 1864 church, just before it was torn down in 1899. Below: Church and School, 1904

The church grew fast enough that 3 different buildings, all on the same block, served as St. Vincent de Paul Church, each building growing larger. The most recent church buildings, built in 1924 in the Byzantine Romanesque style (see photo next page), are now a part of the Canisius College campus, and the church itself is known as the Montante Center. Many affluent Parksiders gave heartily to have the building erected.

St Vincent De Paul Church, Main and Eastwood, c.1926. After the church was closed by the Catholic Diocese, in the 1990s, the building was purchased by Canisius College and renovated as the Montante Cultural Center.

One of the Parkside area’s earliest enthusiasts was Mother Mary Anne Burke of the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph. Mother Mary Anne and her sisters marveled as they strolled up Main Street “north of the horse-drawn trolley tracks.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph built a convent for novices, a novitiate, south from St. Vincent’s to Delevan Avenue. The now densely built up property was then described as an “expanse of land and… groves of trees.”  A decade later, when the Sisters of St Joseph abandoned the property for the current site of St Mary’s School for the Deaf, Jesuit Fathers purchased the land to farm in 1874. In 1911, the Fathers built Canisius College there.

The Sisters also purchased 30 acres of land across Main Street from St. Vincent’s in 1883. The frontage of this land is now part of the Canisius College Campus, and the rear portion is Medaille College; Mount St Joseph Academy when it was built. Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart Dunne wrote about in The Congregation of St. Joseph of Buffalo:

No more desirable property than this, for its purpose, could be wished for. Situated at the north entrance to Delaware Park, overlooking the great expanse of Park Meadows and, on two sides, adjoining Forest Lawn, Buffalo’s City of the Dead, the chance for seclusion was ideal. The place had been the home of George Bailey, an English Gentleman whose artistic taste led him to lavish time, care, and wealth upon a spot already beautiful by nature. It was known for many years as one of the finest estates in the surrounding country with its extensive lawns, patterned garden plots, fruit orchards, patches of forest with trees from every clime and a charming residence of English Architecture. Time brought about a change of fortune for the owner and there was a rumor of putting the property in the market for sale. Many who had hoped one day to secure it were deterred from opening negotiations because of the price when a fire occurred. The residence was destroyed and a sale became imperative. The fact that the pastor of the nearby church saved the life of the owner, now an invalid, by carrying him out of the burning structure, dispelled whatever of prejudice may have existed against letting the property fall into Catholic hands.

The Mother-house, Main Street, 1899.

That was the sanitized version approved for publishing in the Sister’s official history. The well told tale told by early Parksiders was closer to what Michael Riester wrote in the Parkside News in 1998:

For years, Mother Mary Anne Burke had pleaded with Bailey to sell the former S. V. Ryan estate to the sisters.  Despite his refusals, Mother Mary Anne prayed that he might change his mind. By 1883, Mr. Bailey was elderly and an invalid when Rev. Martin Phillips, Pastor at St. Vincent’s, was aroused from his slumber by the roar of fire at the Bailey Estate, directly across Main from the church. Father Phillips risked his own life, charged into the building, and saved Mr. Bailey. Soon thereafter, Bailey sold to Mother Mary Anne and the Sisters of St. Joseph, who erected a motherhouse on the grounds in 1889.

The cornerstone laid in 1889, the Mother House and Academy of Mt. St. Joseph was completed on the site of the former George Bailey home by 1891 for the sum of $80,000. From the 80 foot vantage-point of the cupola, it was written that “the panorama of the entire city was visible, and, on clear days, the shining mist of the mighty Niagara (could also be seen).”

Mt St Joseph Academy, Main at Humboldt, 1891

To raise money to add to the buildings the Sisters had constructed, in 1908, the Sisters sold ten lots facing Humboldt Parkway and raised $150,000. Coming full circle, these properties, and the homes on them are now the property of Medaille College, which was originally built to house Mt. St. Joseph School for Boys.

Mother Mary Anne was a forced to be reckoned with, but also a gentle soul. On the Anniversary of her silver anniversary as a sister, Fr. Patrick Cronin wrote in the Union and Times, on December 26, 1888, “A woman of rare worth is Mother Mary Anne. Large-minded, just, generous and kind, her heart and brain have especially fitted her to be the guide of others… The history of her life and labors would be the History of the Sisters of St. Joseph in western New York. The tiny mustard seed of three Sisters and four deaf pupils in 1854 has   developed into a body of one hundred-fifty Sisters, fifteen schools, a property unequaled for beauty… and an Institution for the Deaf which is the rival of any other of its kind.”

St. Mary’s School for the Deaf, 1898.

Anna Bancroft Coushaine wrote about the St. Mary Le Couteulx Deaf Mute Institute in the Buffalo Courier in 1901, saying it had been furnished with “every modern convenience to be had in the home of wealth and refinement,” and was a great atmosphere to for the pupils to learn to “talk with their fingers, which they do just as rapidly as hearing children can speak with their lips.”

The Church of the Good Shepherd

Back in the middle of Parkside proper, in the mid 1880’s, Elam Jewett began plans for developing a piece of his property to act as a central meeting place for the fledgling Parkside neighborhood, to honor his friend and late pastor, and to serve as a beautiful place of worship.

As previously mentioned, Jewett was a devout Episcopalian, and was a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown. He and his wife were rather close with the pastor of Trinity, Rev. Edward Ingersoll. When Ingersoll died in 1883, Jewett made every attempt to join with the church in an attempt to build a suitable memorial to Ingersoll. When an agreement on what was to be done couldn’t be reached, an aged Jewett poured all of his energy into an effort that would memorialize his friend, and at the same time  cut down his long, dusty ride to church every week. Plans for the Ingersoll Memorial Chapel, soon to become Good Shepherd Church, were set in motion.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, 1890

From his time at Trinity, he was acquainted with men and women of the relatively new and idealistic Arts and Crafts movement. He contacted the firm of Silsbee and Marling (later Marling and Burdett) to design the church. Herbert Burdett was an early assistant in the office of H.H. Richardson, and helped capture the Richarsonian style that Jewett was after in his church. Work began in 1888, with the cornerstone laid just months after Elam Jewett’s death in 1887.

As the structure was being completed, it was outfitted with nine prime examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany windows, most notable the representation of the Good Shepherd carrying two lambs in the chancel. The work was said to be among the last works to be done by Tiffany himself.

Another Tiffany window, a scene of Christ with children, is found in Good Shepherd’s children’s chapel. The children are said to be modeled after the children of Jewett’s nephew William Northrup, as well as other kids of the neighborhood.  (See above.)

As published in A Century in the Fold: A History of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Good Shepherd’s first pastor, Rev. Thomas Berry, wrote his view from the back porch at Jewett’s Willowlawn estate, as the church was being built. Parkside was still rather rural in 1888:

Contiguous to the lawn yet separated from it by a picket fence and a hedge of stately roses, was a garden. Oh! What a garden with its old fashioned flowers and its prim borders, where children romped and through which Mrs. Jewett often led her guests. Departures from the house were always accompanied by gifts of flowers or fruit, wile the tables of many less fortunate people were literally kept supplied with vegetables in season.

The first service was held at Good Shepherd in March 1888, at which time from the steps of the brand new church, the Rev. Berry could see only trees, grass, and the Jewett Homestead. It was Jewett farmland for as far as the eye could see, and it was from that corner that Parkside was to blossom.

Only two years after that first service at Good Shepherd, in 1890, prominent Buffalo Architect William Sydney Wicks, partner of E.B. Green in the firm Green and Wicks, built his English Tudor mansion across the street from Good Shepherd on the corner of Summit Avenue and Jewett Parkway.  Wicks was an early and long time promoter of the Parkside neighborhood, and kept his neighborhood in mind as served as Park Commissioner from 1897-1900. The Wicks Mansion remains to this day one of the more recognizable landmarks in Parkside.


William Sydney Wicks, c.1896, in front of his home on Jewett, with Good Shepherd in the background.

©2009 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

This page is an excerpt from
The Complete History of Parkside
by Steve Cichon

The 174-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.