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Archive for November 28th, 2021

metcalfeMetcalfe Street runs between Clinton Street and William Street in the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood of the East Side. The street is near the former Buffalo Stockyards and is named for James Metcalfe, a meatpacker.

The Metcalfe family came to America from Yorkshire, England, before the Revolutionary War. James Harvey Metcalfe was born in Bath, New York, in August 1822. James moved to Ellicottville with his parents in the 1840s. James came to Buffalo at the age of 33 in 1855, after the death of his father and a daughter. His first job in Buffalo was as a hotel keeper, operating the Drover’s Home. The Drover’s Home was located on Elk Street, where the Lake Shore and Erie Railroads exchanged freight, at what was known as Elk Street Junction. A drover is someone who drives cattle or sheep. Mr. Metcalfe quickly learned that more money was to be made in livestock in Buffalo rather than the hotel industry. He became a partner in the meatpacking firm of Metcalfe & Cushing, one of the largest local meatpacking houses. He was simultaneously a partner in Metcalfe & Gibbs, meat distributors in New York City.  In 1863, The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad opened the East Buffalo Stock Yards.  Metcalfe & Cushing were in charge of the department of hogs.  The Stock Yards had capacity for up to 35,000 hogs at a time.

Mr. Metcalfe was a strong promoter of the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railroad and served as a Director. He was the largest stockholder in First National Bank, located on the southeast corner of Main and Seneca Street. He served as President of the bank for many years, during which time the bank weathered several financial panics. Mr. Metcalfe was appointed as a parks commissioner in 1876 and contributed to the improvement of the Buffalo Parks System until his death.

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Metcalfe House on Swan Street. Source: New York State Office of Historic Preservation

James Metcalfe married Erzelia Frances Stetson in 1849, and they had six children – Frances, Kate, James Jr, George, Francis, and Guy. The first two daughters were born in Ellicottville. Unfortunately, Kate died as an infant and is buried in Jefferson Street Cemetery in Ellicottville. In Buffalo, the Metcalfes lived in a house on Swan Street, one door from Michigan Avenue. At the time, Swan Street was a fashionable neighborhood. The house was across the street from Benjamin Fitch’s dry good store, which later became the Fitch Creche – the country’s first daycare center. The Metcalfe’s house was listed as a Buffalo Landmark in 1979 but was demolished in 1992 after a wall collapsed.

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House at 672 Delaware Avenue. Source: Buffaloah.com

Mr. Metcalfe was fond of animals and had a dozen fine horses. In 1871, they moved to Delaware Avenue into a house purchased from Aaron Rumsey at 672 Delaware Avenue. When the Metcalfes moved to Delaware Avenue, he also got a cow, who grazed on the grass outside his gardens. The family had a lot of pets – dogs, cats, a pony, several varieties of pigeons, a raccoon, and a bear cub!  The family noted that the bear cub was well behaved; his only incident was when a popcorn vendor came to the house – the bear stole some popcorn.

The family attended St. John’s Episcopal Church, located at Swan and Washington Streets and later Christ Church. The Metcalfe family often attended plays in box seats at the Academy of Music. The children would enthusiastically stand near the rail of the box seats, blocking their father’s view. Mr. Metcalfe was known for settling into his chair and taking a nap, letting the kids enjoy the show.

Many distinguished guests would visit the Metcalfe Home, including James Blaine. James Blaine was a politician from Maine who served as U.S. Congressman, Senator, and Secretary of State. Mr. Blaine is said to have liked Mr. Metcalfe’s sitting room design so much, he copied it when he designed his own mansion on Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.  The Blaine mansion is still standing today.

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Metcalfe Marker in Forest Lawn

Mr. Metcalfe retired from his position as President of First National Bank in June 1879 due to his ill health. Unfortunately, the youngest Metcalfe son, Guy, drowned at age 11 while playing on the canal bridge in August 1879. Mr. Metcalfe, already ill and now heartbroken over the loss of his son, died eight weeks later on October 5, 1879. Both James and his son are buried in the Metcalfe Plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

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Metcalfe House in 1895. Source:  Wikimedia

James Metcalfe’s son, James Jr., built a house at 125 North Street from the estate for himself and his mother, Erzelia. The house was built just around the corner from their former house at 672 Delaware on the same property Mr. Metcalfe had purchased from Aaron Rumsey in 1871. The Metcalfe House was commissioned by McKim, Mead, and White architectural firm in July 1882 and was completed in 1884. This was the first house the NYC-based firm designed in Buffalo. The house cost $23,464 to build($636,263 in today’s dollars). The 125 North Street house was described in 1926 as “a charming house that was the scene of many exclusive but brilliant little dinners, for Mrs. Metcalfe had the happy knack of assembling clever people together.” The house was smaller than the grand mansions of the previous generation, with lower ceilings. They required less heat, fewer furnishings, and fewer servants.

After the Metcalfes moved out, the 125 North Street house was occupied by E.R. Thomas and Edward M. Mills. The house was then leased to the Graduates Association and was used as a rooming house. By 1926, the house was “without a tenant and probably will pass, like so many others of its neighbors, into the discard, although it far too artistic a house to meet any such fate.”

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Former Butler Mansion, now Jacobs Executive Center. Source: UB

The former Metcalfe house at 672 Delaware was demolished in 1896 to build two homes for the Williams Brothers at Delaware and North – 672 Delaware for George Williams and 690 Delaware for Charles Williams. Like 125 North Street, these houses were also designed by McKim, Mead, and White. The house at 672 Delaware was the most expensive house of its time in the area, costing George Williams $171,877 (about $5.6 million today). The house was sold to Edward H. Butler, founder of the Buffalo News, in 1905. The Butler family lived in the home for 69 years.

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Metcalfe House on North Street. Pillars from the Butler Mansion can be seen on the right hand side of the photo.  Source: Library of Congress

Sportsystems Corp purchased the 672 Delaware Ave property and 125 North Street in 1979. Sportsystems became Delaware North due to the site’s location at the prominent corner of Delaware Avenue and North Street. The company insisted they could not move their headquarters into the Butler Mansion unless they created a 38 spot parking lot.  They planned to demolish the house to build the parking lot on the Metcalfe House site. The 672 Delaware mansion was meticulously rehabilitated by Delaware North to bring it back to its glory days. The Delaware North headquarters moved into the mansion in 1987.
Preservationists fought to save the Metcalfe House at 125 North, particularly Francis R. Kowsky, Professor of Fine Arts at Buffalo State. Professor Kowsky referred to the architecture of the building as the midway point between HH Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright. In February 1980, 125 North Street was demolished. The parking lot was determined not to be needed and was removed a few years later.

Parts of the Metcalfe House were saved, and you can visit them today! First, the solid cherry dining room and library of 125 North Street were dismantled and stored in boxes. Then, in 1989, the pieces were reassembled on the first floor in Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College. The Metcalfe Rooms serve as a reception area and conference room. The reconstruction of the rooms cost $220,000 and was financed by private donations, including Delaware North’s donation of $40,000.

Metcalf Room in Rockwell Hall at SUNY Buffalo State College.

Metcalf Room in Rockwell Hall at SUNY Buffalo State College.

Metcalf Room in Rockwell Hall at SUNY Buffalo State College.

Metcalf Room in Rockwell Hall at SUNY Buffalo State College.

Once it appeared that the preservation battle was lost, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was also interested in taking the front portions of the interior. The Met received the entrance hall, central staircase, and parlor. The Stair Hall and Entrance were installed between 1990 and 1992 in the Museum’s American Wing. Guests enter through a former doorway and exit through the original colonial-style split (Dutch) door. The room features “a fashionable “inglenook” – a fireplace flanked by built-in benches – and a dramatic staircase with a half-story landing lit by leaded-glass windows.” The parlor has remained in storage.

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Entryway from the Metcalfe House at the Met. Source: Wikimedia

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Stairwell from the Metcalfe House at the Met. Source: Wikimedia

Many architects feel that the wrong house was demolished. The mansions at 690 Delaware and 672 Delaware were big repetitive style houses, whereas 125 North Street was unique and different. The property at 672 Delaware Avenue is currently owned by University at Buffalo. It is known as the Jacobs Executive Development Center. The site of the Metcalfe House is a part of the gardens associated with the Jacobs Center.  The demolition of the Metcalfe house organized the preservation movement in Buffalo. It led to the creation of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County (now a part of Preservation Buffalo Niagara).

So, next time you head down Metcalfe Street, think of the Metcalfe family’s houses that are no longer standing.  And the next time you pass the corner of Delaware and North, imagine someone playing outside with their bear cub!  Want to learn about other streets? Check out the Street Index. Don’t forget to subscribe to the page to be notified when new posts are made. You can do so by entering your email address in the box on the upper right-hand side of the home page. You can also follow the blog on facebook. If you enjoy the blog, please be sure to share it with your friends.

Sources:

  • Smith, H. Katherine. “Metcalfe Street Named for Bank Founder Who Also Built Up Parks.” Buffalo Courier-Express. January 7, 1940, pL5.
  • “The Duchess Strolls: Pomander Walk.” Buffalo Courier. June 5, 1926, p6.
    “First National Bank: Resignation of Mr. Metcalfe as President.” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser. June 9, 1879, p3.
  • “Obituary: Mr. James H. Metcalfe.” Buffalo Courier. October 6, 1879, p2.
  • Cardinale, Anthony. “Rising from the Rubble The Historic Metcalfe House was Razed Ten Years Ago, But Parts of It Can Be Revisited.” Buffalo News. December 24, 1989
  • Bosco, Jim. “At Home in the Office Eight Years and $6 Million Later, A Delaware Avenue Mansion Blossoms as Executive Offices.” Buffalo News. April 23, 1989.
  • Sommer, Mark. “Metcalfe house, preserved in part at Buffalo State, helped launch a movement.” Buffalo News. February 14, 2020.
  • Fairbanks, Phil. “Metcalfe House is a Long Way from Home Remains of Buffalo Landmark Will Go On Display in New York.” Buffalo News. July 7, 1991.
  • “Home of a Thousand Voices: Members of the Metcalfe Family in Ellicottville, New York.” Wisteria. June 29, 2017. http://wisteria-dawn.blogspot.com/ (online November 2021).
  • Larned, JN.  “A History of Buffalo:  Delineating the Evolution of the City.”  Empire State Company, 1911.

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