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 after the War of 1812

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Once peace was made, life slowed down considerably in the outlying area that was the Flint Hill/Parkside area; still 4-and-a-half miles north of the action of the village of Buffalo. And plenty of action there was. Through much political wrangling, the Village of Buffalo was selected as the terminus of the Erie Canal in 1825, bypassing the village of Black Rock, and sealing Buffalo’s fate as a major player in trade for the next century.

North Street (as the name implies) was the city’s northern border when it incorporated as a city in 1832. And even after Main Street was Macadamized, a rudimentary form of paving, in 1839, the  ride along “the Main Road” between Buffalo and Williamsville, through the Parkside area, was still a bumpy ride through “the country.”

Just as today, it was thought one way to solve the city’s problems was through taxes. The collection of tolls paid for the improvements to the Buffalo-Williamsville Road; dozens of toll gates were erected from Buffalo to Albany long the stretch, including one adjacent to Schardt’s tavern at Main and Steele Streets.

Schardt’s Tavern, which was on the southeast corner of Steele and Main, served as a “halfway house,” a rest stop between Buffalo and Williamsville back in a day when travel was more difficult and time consuming.  (Buffalo Stories archives)

Steele was later to be renamed Kensington Avenue, and later Humboldt Parkway would cut through the corner, meaning Buffalo’s first toll booth was roughly at the corner of what is now Main and Humboldt.

Many of the men who first came to occupy what is now Parkside were well into middle age when they came here in the first decade of the 1800s. Therefore, by the 1820s and 1830s, many of the original pioneers were giving way to a new generation, many of whom knew Flint Hill and the Buffalo Plains as their only home.

Warren Granger

Judge Erastus Granger would retire most of his public offices, and live out his final years at Flint Hill; his 700 acres scattered with homes for friends and family members. He remained a firm Republican, and a close friend of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. He was one of many Buffalonians who pushed for the building of the Erie Canal, and pushed for its western terminus to be located in Buffalo.

His friendship with Red Jacket also grew. Granger was buried on Christmas Day, 1826. Following the funeral, as the casket was about to be lowered into the grave, Red Jacket stood forward, and stared intently upon the face of the deceased. The great Indian Chief then delivered in his native Seneca tongue a final eulogy and prayer for his close friend. Those who heard it and understood it, said it was one of Red Jacket’s finest oratories, in a career of fine oratory.  The men’s friendship was legendary enough to be etched on the façade of City Hall.

In 1845, Erastus’s son Warren Granger built for himself a great stone mansion on the site of the ancient Councils in the Oaks of the Senecas. Again, this place is now marked at Forest Lawn Cemetery by a large sundial, easily visible from Main Street.

The Gothic Structure was designed by Calvin Otis, built by John Ambrose, and made of stone quarried from the estate. It was destined to become the center of the Buffalo social scene, despite it’s out of the way location. Like his father before him, Warren was a staunch Republican. His home saw parties during the Hard Cider campaign of William Henry Harrison, and actually played host to then-former President John Quincy Adams in 1848. And there is scarcely a doubt that Granger was in attendance when Abraham Lincoln stopped in Buffalo in February 1861 on his way to Washington to take the oath of office as President.

The Granger’s property was considered among the most beautiful on the Niagara Frontier, and, in 1850, the Granger Family sold most of its vast tracts of rolling green acreage to the City of Buffalo. Some of it, 80 acres worth, was destined to become Forest Lawn Cemetery. But the rest of the land, including Granger’s quarry and his meadow, would be reserved by the City for future use as a park. It would be over a quarter of a century, however, before Frederick Law Olmsted would unveil plans to transform the areas raw, natural beauty into the Delaware Park we know today.

Washington Adams Russell

Captain Rowland Cotton was one of the original Plains Rangers, and was the Revolutionary War veteran who helped Daniel Chapin exhume and re-inter the 300 souls who died at the Flint Hill camp in 1813. He moved to the village of Lancaster in 1826, and as those Parksiders who live between Jewett Parkway and Russell Avenue will note on their property deeds, Cotton sold his farm to Washington Adams Russell.

Russell was the son of James Russell, a Revolutionary War Captain who happened to be well acquainted with the Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington. When Russell’s son was born in 1801, he named him after the first two Presidents of the United States—George Washington and John Adams.

Washington Adams Russell left central Pennsylvania in 1825 with his young family, driving a team of oxen towards Buffalo. He ran the Cold Springs Tavern at what is now Main and Ferry Streets for a year, before buying the 200-acre Cotton estate. In 1841, he built the area’s first brick home, a home which still stands today at 2540 Main Street (seen below in the 1880s).

the home of Washington Adams Russell, Main Street. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Now painted white, the building houses “The Church in Buffalo,” marked today by a sign proclaiming “Taste and See!” on the Main Street lawn. But for years, it was the McKendry-Dengler then Roberts-Dengler Funeral Home. It remains the oldest home still standing in Parkside.

Washington Adams Russell died in the home in 1877, but his name lived on famously in Parkside. Russell’s son Washington Russell II went to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. His grandson, Washington Russell III was another prominent figure in local history, famous as an eccentric renaissance man.

Aside from having built the oldest building still in Parkside, the eldest Russell is also remembered as having been the source of four street names in Parkside. Deeded to the city in 1889, Russell Avenue was the cow path by which the family brought their cattle to drink from a spring in the Delaware Park meadow. Fairfield and Greenfield were the names of pastures on the Russell farm, located about where those streets are today. Orchard Place was the site of the Russell fruit tree orchard.

Col. William Chapin and Elam Jewett

Col. William Whitney Chapin stayed on at his father Dr. Daniel Chapin’s home on Main Street following the doctor’s death in 1821. Over the years, William built out from the somewhat rustic frontier cabin his father called home, eventually enveloping it completely. In doing so, with an eye towards aesthetics, he’d built what was considered one of Buffalo’s most beautiful mansions. Willowlawn, he named it, for the willow trees surrounding the home. It was from one of these trees that Daniel Chapin took clippings to plant on either side of the grave in the Park Meadow.  It is also from this estate that Willow Lawn, the small street between Crescent Avenue and Main Street, takes its name. Before Willowlawn Avenue was deeded to the city in 1905, it was the site of an expansive garden just to the south of the home.

The Willowlawn Estate, as it appeared in 1901 after a great storm which toppled a willow on the front lawn. An apartment complex now stands at the site, at Main & Jewett.

Col. Chapin died in 1852. Eight years later, in 1864, Elam Jewett, the publisher of Buffalo newspaper The Commercial Advertiser, purchased the Willowlawn Estate. It was Jewett’s wealth, philanthropy, and keen eye as a developer that would help change the serene Buffalo Plains and Flint Hill area into the Parkside known today.

Elam Jewett was raised on his father’s farm in Vermont, and wrote for several newspapers in that state. He grew restless however, and looked to the western frontier, “where great opportunities awaited him.” He purchased a newspaper, The Buffalo Journal from Judge Samuel Wilkeson in 1838, and merged it with the Advertiser the next year. Having become a prominent Buffalonian in his own right, Jewett became a close friend of another prominent Buffalonian– Millard Fillmore. The two traveled in Europe together in 1856.

Jewett had “retired” to Willow-lawn to live the life of a “gentle-man farmer” on the massive acreage, but he did have several publicly-minded plans for his sprawling property.

First, with the War of 1812 still fresh in the minds of Buffalo, Jewett wanted to build a proper stone memorial to the hundreds buried in what was essentially now his backyard by Dr. Chapin and Captain Cotton. The Mound in The Meadow didn’t look much different than it did 40 years earlier when the 300 soldiers were buried the spring following that “dreadful contagion” in 1813. It remained marked only by the pair of willow trees planted by Dr. Chapin, though the saplings had grown to full mature trees marking either side of the ghoulish reminder of the area’s war history.

But it was ultimately through Dr. Chapin’s previously mentioned efforts to keep and enhance the area’s natural beauty that Mr. Jewett’s patriotic intentions to build the monument were frustrated. The city took that majestic part of Jewett’s land, and added it to the land also purchased from the Granger family, to make up the bulk of what is now Delaware Park. The mass grave remains to this day, underneath the Delaware Park Golf course, marked only by a large boulder placed by the Historical Society in 1896.

The wealthy publishing magnate also planned to give to his church in his retirement. Though his various plans were frustrated and also met with stops and starts through the years, Jewett eventually created a church that became the center from which the Parkside neighborhood would be built.

A devout Episcopalian, Jewett was rebuffed when he offered land to the Episcopal Church charity foundation to build a home and chapel for infants and the elderly on his land off of Main Street. Ellen Parisi talks about it in her book A Century in the Fold: A History of the Church of the Good Shepherd (1988), in part quoting Rev. Thomas Berry. Keep in mind, the outlying area referred to here is today the corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue:

It was felt unwise to leave the elderly and orphans stranded “miles from civilization” when the snowdrifts in winter would make walking anywhere impossible. “Here, the citizen dwelling below Ferry St. came out for a ‘day in the country’… and here along the ‘Main Street’ the Williamsville stage rumbled in its daily trips to and from Buffalo. We were missionaries in those days, and tried to convince city merchants, who objected to delivering goods ‘so far out,’ that it as no farther out than it was in to make our purchases.”

But while Jewett’s overtures were being rejected by his church because of the area’s remoteness; it was just that feeling of  “miles from civilization” that some in the bustling city were trying to capture. In 1858, the City of Buffalo was growing to a point where it looked like green space and nature was soon to be at premium. A group of “public-spirited gentleman” began plans to build a public park system in Buffalo. At private expense, Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated architect of the Central Park system in New York, was brought to Buffalo to “examine the situation and recommend a desirable park scheme.”

This 1872 map shows Elam Jewett’s vast property holdings, on both sides of the park, and both sides of Main Street.

©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.