By Steve Cichon
When it was torn down after World War II, the Amherst House was the last surviving structure in Buffalo with direct ties to city designer Joseph Ellicott, as well as one of Buffalo’s oldest surviving homes.
Buffalo News archives
Ellicott had the house built for his niece in 1823 on Main Street between High and Goodrich, in the footprint of what is today’s Medical Campus. The pillars on the front of the house were said to be selected from forests all around Western New York by Ellicott himself, who also supervised the trees’ being dragged back to the outskirts of Buffalo.
Tall locust trees filled the property, and peacocks were kept on the lawn. A mansion in the grandest sense, the basement was home to a Colonial baking oven in the kitchen and a well-used servant’s quarters.
By the 1890s, the formerly bucolic and rural feeling “Washington Park” area had been overrun by the trappings of Buffalo’s brewing industry. From the mansion’s stately windows, there was a view of the Empire Brewing Co. in the back on High Street and the German American Brewing Co. to the left on Main across High, not to mention Buffalo General Hospital a few blocks away.
In 1884, at the corner of Main and High. The home was owned by brewer Charles Gerber, who hosted Grover Cleveland and Mark Twain. Cleveland was said to have visited Gerber frequently to “drink Mr. Gerber’s beer and enjoy the brewer’s jolly personality.” Twain was said to regularly burst through the front door claiming to be a burglar during his time in Buffalo.
John C. Glenny bought the house for $300 and wanted to move it — but city fathers denied the request. To skirt that denial, in 1891, he had the house broken down in to several pieces and moved to the then-more rural Amherst Street site that is now Nichols School’s Peek Field.
The pieces of the house were moved down High Street to Humboldt Parkway, then across the park meadow to the spot where it stayed for the next six decades. The move cost $10,000.
Only blocks away from the Pan-American Expo grounds, the Glennys played host to “many distinguished visitors” to Buffalo in 1901.
Following Glenny’s death in 1910, Buffalo attorney, Pan-Am organizer and Pierce-Arrow executive William B. Hoyt bought the home. The Hoyt family owned the home until Mrs. Hoyt’s death in 1945.
In 1941, Mrs. Hoyt — the grandmother of the late Assemblyman William B. Hoyt II — offered the property to the Buffalo Historical Society as a historic property, but the society couldn’t afford the upkeep. After her death, the property was sold to the Evangelical and Reformed Church, with the idea that the house would be torn down to make way for a new home for the aged. However, a provision in Mrs. Hoyt’s will was discovered that said the property could only be used for residential or education purposes until 1956.
In 1949, the Courier-Express described the once-grand home as “a ruin” in a story called “Death of a Mansion.” The home, which once hosted Presidents Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and Cleveland, looked like “a southern mansion, abandoned after the Civil War.”
The photo shows the home in 1949, dismantled, awaiting court approval for a final demolition and the building of a home for the aged on the property. At the time, this core part of the house was the city’s oldest surviving dwelling.
The green light for a demo on Buffalo’s oldest surviving house was given in 1952, and in 1954 a home for the elderly opened on the site. In 2003, Nichols bought and razed the United Church home’s 1950s structure and replaced it with a state-of-the-art athletic field.