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Archive for October, 2022

Note from Angela:  After more than a decade of my street project, I’ve become a much better researcher.  So, I’ve felt like I should go back and reexamine some of my early posts!  I have been able to find some more in-depth sources and I’ve gotten much better at using microfilm at the library!  So, I have decided to rewrite my very first blog post.  I never felt we fully gave Mr. Fargo his due.  This story has everything – pony express, mansions, estate lawsuits, custody battles, divorce, estate lawsuits, an abandoned mansion, and did I mention estate lawsuits!?  Enjoy!  

fargo AVEFargo Avenue runs between Hudson Street and Niagara Street in the Lower West Side neighborhood of Buffalo.  The street was originally named 10th Street when it was laid out as part of the original Village of Black Rock.  The street was named in May 1869 for William Fargo, founder of American Express and Wells Fargo & Co.  I have not been able to figure out officially why they left the last three blocks of Tenth Street still remaining with the number.  In June of 1869, the residents of Tenth Street between Hudson and Carolina Streets petitioned to change the name of their part of the street to Fargo Avenue as well.  The residents then rescinded their petition and submitted a new petition to change the name to Forest Avenue.  However, the street remains Tenth Street.  The streets don’t quite align at Hudson Street, so perhaps the City felt it was better to keep them as separate streets, and then perhaps the residents couldn’t quite agree on what their street should be named!

William Fargo 1860 photo by matthew brady

William Fargo, around 1860.

William George Fargo was born in Pompey, Onondaga County, New York in 1818.  The Fargo family had been in America since 1670 when William’s Great-Great-Great Grandpa Moses Fargo came from Wales.  Mr. Fargo’s father fought in the War of 1812 in Western New York, particularly at the Battle of Queenstown Heights.  William Fargo was one of ten children and attended rural schools, where he learned the three r’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic –  during the winter months.  At the age of 13, he dropped out of school to begin working as a mail carrier, carrying mail from Pompey by way of Waterville, Manlius, Oran, Delphi, Fabius, and Apulia (about a 40-mile route).  While he was delivering mail, families along the route would ask him to make purchases in other towns.  He’d charge the people a small fee for the service.  This sparked the idea of what became his nationwide express delivery service.  Express delivery is a service in which letters or packages are delivered by a special service to ensure speed or security.

Mr. Fargo worked in the grocery business in Syracuse, but he realized that transportation interested him more.  In 1839, he connected with the Auburn & Syracuse Railroad and the Pomeroy Express Company in Albany.  In 1843, he became the Pomeroy Company’s Buffalo agent for their stagecoach service (at the time still the only public transportation between Batavia and Buffalo).  In 1844, he formed a partnership with Henry Wells and Daniel Dunning to organize the first express company west of Buffalo.  An express company is a business that provides delivery of parcels.  The company connected the Pomeroy firm to extend to Cleveland and Detroit.  In the summer, they transported via Lake Erie, but after lake navigation season ended, they’d use stage coaches and sleighs.   They extended to include Chicago and Milwaukee.  Mr. Dunning withdrew his interest in the company and Mr. Wells sold his interest in the company to William Livingston in 1846 and the company name was changed to Livingston & Fargo.

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American Express office and cart, 1878. Source: American Express.

In 1850, the American Express Company was established, with Henry Wells as President and William Fargo as secretary.  American Express was the merger of companies – Wells & Company; Livingston, Fargo & Co; and Wells, Butterfield & Company.  In 1856, American Express started to expand into financial services by offering a money order business, to compete with the US Postal Service money orders.  In 1868, American Express Company merged with the Merchants’ Union Company.  At that time, Mr. Fargo was president of the nationwide firm.  By 1881, American Express has 3,000 offices.

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Wells Fargo Wagon (listed as both 1860 and 1879).  Source:  Wikipedia.

Shortly after the organization of American Express, some of the directors didn’t want to expand to California, though Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo wanted to expand.  So in 1852, Wells, Fargo & Company was organized to transport parcels and mail to San Francisco, using steamships from New York to the Isthmus of Panama and from Panama to the California Port.  They continued this route until the Union and Central Pacific Railroad was complete.  Wells Fargo’s pony express was the only link between many frontier towns.  They established banks in the West to fill the needs of gold miners.  Wells Fargo grew during the 1850s and 1860s, building on a reputation of trust between the business and their customers.  Wells Fargo was a part of a transportation revolution as travel began to be more accessible and the United States grew westward.  The company always sent their business via the fasted way possible depending on the region – stagecoach, steamship, railroad, pony ride, or telegraph.

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Wells Fargo Stage Stop in Black Canyon City, Arizona, built in 1872.  Source:  Wikipedia.

By 1866, Wells Fargo stagecoaches covered 3,000 miles of territory across California, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho.  In 1888, Wells Fargo became the country’s first nationwide express company, serving communities from the urban centers of the eastern seaboard, through the rail hub of Chicago, farming regions of the Midwest, ranching and mining centers in Texas and Arizona, and lumber mill towns in the Pacific Northwest.  The Wells Fargo wagon was a piece of Americana so familiar that when Meredith Willson wrote The Music Man in the 1960s about his childhood in Iowa in the 1910s, he included a song about the Wells Fargo Wagon coming to town.  In 1905, Wells Fargo separated the banking and express operations.

Both Wells Fargo and American Express ended their express service in 1917 when the US Treasury began to consolidate railway lines as part of the war effort.  All contracts between express companies and the railroad were null and express shipping was consolidated into the US Railway Express Agency (REA), which continued service until 1975.

Wells Fargo and American Express helped to revolutionize shipping across the country.  The companies were an important part of establishing regular mail service across the country and they helped to reduce postal rates.  They charged less than the government and offered better service, so US Postal Service had to keep up.

Mr. Fargo played a prominent role in the development of American railroads.  He served as Vice President of the New York Central and was a Director of both the Northern Pacific and the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia lines.  He was also connected with the Buffalo Coal Company and the McKean & Buffalo Railroad Company.  He was a stockholder in several large manufacturing interests in Buffalo.  He was the majority stockholder and President of the Buffalo Courier Company.  He was a member of the first board of Buffalo State Hospital when it opened in 1880.

Mayor Fargo First House - Buffalo Times

47 Niagara Street, the Fargos first home in Buffalo. Source: The Buffalo Times

William G. Fargo married Anna Hurd Williams in January 1840.  The Fargos came to Buffalo in 1843.  They originally lived in a house they built at at 47 Niagara Street. The house was at the corner of Franklin Street. When the Fargo family moved out, the building was converted to business purposes and had several uses over the years.  Supposedly in 1948, when the building was being remodeled, the construction workers found old Wells Fargo boxes in the house.  The building’s last use was as Crotty’s Peace Pipe, a restaurant and lounge, which was in the building from 1949 to 1971.  Crotty’s closed on Kentucky Derby Day.  The building was torn down as part of Phase II of the Main Place downtown urban renewal project in the 1960s and the building’s site is now a part of the site of Erie County Family Court and the Fernbach Parking Ramp.

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Mayor Fargo’s Portrait. Source: City Hall Portrait Collection.

Mr. Fargo served as Mayor of Buffalo from 1861 to 1865, during the Civil War.  He was known as being a friend to soldiers during his time as mayor.  He paid to ship care packages to the Buffalo troops and provided the local regiment with regimental flags.  In 1864, he helped Union forces prevent a Confederate plot to invade Buffalo and other Lake Erie cities.  During William Fargo’s time as Mayor, Mrs. Fargo was President of the Christian Commission, an organization that prepared bandages and necessities for soldiers of the war.  Mayor Fargo was nominated for a third term as Mayor in 1865, but lost to Chandler Wells by just 200 votes, in a a 51% to 49% vote.  This Chandler Wells often gets mistaken as the Wells in Wells Fargo.  Mr. Fargo’s business partner was Henry Wells, and I found little evidence that Henry Wells lived in Buffalo for any substantial amount of time.  I tracked both Chandler Wells and Henry Wells’ families back to the 1600s and found no relation between the two families.  We’ll learn more about Chandler Wells when we discuss Wells Street.

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Fargo Property in Center of Photo. Source: 1872 Atlas of Buffalo.

In 1867, the Fargos purchased a property bounded by Fargo, West, Pennsylvania, and Jersey.  In April 1870, the family moved into the Fargo Mansion.  The house was completed in August 1872.  Artists and artisans from Europe were brought to design, construct and decorate the structure. The Fargo Mansion was very elaborate and was 22,170 square feet in size.  It cost $500,000 (about $12.1 Million today) to build with a total of $621,000 (about $15.1 Million today) including the house, barns, greenhouses, and grounds.  The stable, built at the corner of West Avenue and Pennsylvania Streets cost $50,000 (about $1.2 Million today) alone.

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Fargo Mansion. Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo

The house was three stories, with a five-story central tower, and was designed by JD Towle, a Boston Architect.  Mr. Towle also designed the houses of George Howard, Bronson Rumsey, and Myron Bush.  The main entrance was on Fargo Avenue, with the library entrance on Jersey Street.  There was a beautiful hall on each floor.  Many kinds of woods were used throughout the house – black and French walnut, ebony, birdseye maple, cherry, tulip, tamarack, ash, satinwood, rosewood, elm, oak, butternut, California woods, and many more.  Wood from every state in the Union (37 at the time) was included in the building.  The grand stairway was made of walnut and was considered to be one of the finest in any private residence in the country.  The staircase was rarely used, because the Fargo home had the first elevator ever installed in a home in Buffalo!  The rooms on the first floor had 15-foot ceilings, the second floor had 14.5-foot ceilings and the third floor had 14-foot ceilings.  The bedroom chambers each contained its own bathroom and were decorated in their own color – red, green, pink, blue, and amber.

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Statue of Charlotte Corday by Pasquale Miglioretti, similar to the one found in the Fargo Mansion. Source: Flickr

The house had a billiard room on the third floor.  The drawing room had a crystal chandelier which had 3,684 pieces and weight 1,150 pounds.  The house was rumored to have gold doorknobs.  The house was decorated with fine art throughout the house, including a marble statue of Charlotte Corday in her prison chair which had been displayed at the Paris Exposition of 1867.  There were at least three of these statues made.  The library was home to a large onyx clock which was imported from Paris.  While living in a lavish mansion, Mr. Fargo was said to have always remembered his humble roots.  For this reason, the family kept a photograph of the small cottage where Mr. and Mrs. Fargo lived when they first married prominently on display in the library.

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Hall at Fargo Mansion. Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo

The spacious lawns and gardens of the grounds of the Fargo Mansion were designed by William Webster.  He was a landscape architect in Buffalo.  Before Frederick Law Olmsted came to town, Mr. Webster was responsible for the design of many of Buffalo’s parks, as well as work in the Village of Depew.  The property had 249 feet on both Jersey and Pennsylvania Streets and 627 Feet on Fargo and West Avenues.  In addition to the 5.5 acres, Mr. Fargo bought the blocks across the street on Fargo and West Avenues and kept them vacant during his lifetime.  The property contained a conservatory filled with rare tropical plants.

The Fargo’s property was managed by Mr. Isaac Clark, who took care of the house for 25 years.  The family reportedly had a staff of 14 people year-round to run the the mansion.  Some of the staff were with the family for many years, and several of them were included in the wills of the family members.

  • In 1855, the family had three servants living with them – Harriet Langdon, 22, from Ireland; Catherine Liston, 21, from Ireland; and Patrick Langdon, 25, from Ireland.
  • In 1860, the family had three servants living with them – Mary Murphy, 27, from Ireland; Hannah Holman, 22, from Germany; and George Stanford, 27, from England.
  • In 1870, the family had four domestic servants living with them – Mary Murphy, 40, from Ireland; Bridget Murphy, 28, from Ireland; Phillip Pasmore, 30, from England; and John Williams, 27, a Black man from Virginia.
  • In 1875, the family had eight staff living with them – Cooper Williams, a 33 year old Black Man, Butler, from South Carolina; Mary Murphy, 45, Cook, from Ireland; Agnes Bugard, 30, Parlor Maid, from Canada; Maria Minnihan, 30, Chamber Maid, from Ireland; Bridget Nicholson, 17, Nurse Aid, from Ireland; Abby Washington, 50, Nurse, from England; and Maria McCall, 28, Governess, from Canada.
  • In 1880, the family had 11 servants living with them – Mary McCall, 33, from Scotland; Mary A Glenny, 41, from France; Marie Pedeberdot, 35, from France; Kate Connell, 24, from Pennsylvania; Bridget Nicholson, 22, from Ireland; Mary O’Hara, 40, from Ireland; Ambrose McAlbin, 27, a Black man from Mississippi; James Buckley, 26, from Ireland; John Jamison, 43, the coachman, from Ireland; and John’s wife and daughter Anna Jamison, 43 and Jamie Jamison, 21.

When the Fargos moved uptown, many prominent families began to move to the Lower West Side as well, as Downtown started to change from a residential neighborhood to a central business district.  Lots were advertised around the Lower West Side neighborhood as being “near the Fargo Mansion” to up their desirability as soon as the Fargo Mansion was built.  The Sidway homestead was another large estate in the area (on the block bounded by Pennsylvania, Eleventh-now West, Hudson, and Twelfth-now Plymouth Streets), just southeast from the Fargos.

The Fargos helped to found St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1846, which was originally located at Washington and Swan Streets.  They later helped to establish Christ Church on Delaware Avenue in 1869.  When Christ Church merged with Trinity, they became members of Trinity Episcopal Church.  They were considered to be very generous people.  Mr. Fargo was on the first board of the Buffalo State Hospital.  After the Chicago Fire, Mr. Fargo donated $10,000 ($242,763 in today’s dollars) to those who had lost their homes.  During the Civil War, Mr. Fargo continued to pay the salaries for all of his employees who joined the Union Army.

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William Fargo Grave. Photo by Author.

Mr. Fargo died in August 1881 after being ill with Bright’s disease of the kidneys and an enlarged liver.  He is buried in the family plot in Forest Lawn Cemetery.  When he died, American Express had 2,700 offices and employed more than 5,000 men. It isn’t often that you see last words printed in the Buffalo News, but Mr. Fargo’s obituary indicates that his last words were “Oh, dear me”, uttered as he was helped to bed about two hours before he died.  At the time of his death, Mr. Fargo’s wealth was estimated to be $20,000,000 (about $581 Million today).

So what happened to Mr. Fargo’s wealth?  William and Anna had eight children.  Five of the children died in childhood- Alma Cornelia died at ten months old in 1842, Sarah Irene Fargo died in 1854 at age 11, Hannah Sophia in 1851 at age 4, Mary Louise at six months old in 1852, and Edwin Morgan in 1865 at age 4.  Three children lived to adulthood – Georgianna, born in 1841; Helen Lacy, born in 1857; and William George Jr, born in 1845.

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Graves of the Fargo Children. In the back are the graves of William Fargo’s parents – William and Tacie. Photo by Author

Eldest daughter Georgianna (Georgia) Fargo married Charles McCune in 1865.  They divorced in 1879 and Georgia moved to New York City, where she continued to live for the rest of her life.  In January 1885, Mr. McCune married Libbie Wells.  Libbie was the daughter of Chandler J. Wells, Mr. Fargo’s political rival!  When Mr. McCune died in March 1885, just two months after his wedding to Libbie.  Georgia happened to visit Buffalo shortly after his death.  Newspapers reported that she was in town to contest the will, and speculated as to the reasons that Georgia might be eligible for a portion of the McCune Estate.  Mr. McCune had been the head of the Buffalo Courier and the estate was estimated to be worth $800,000 (about $24 Million today). The newspapers called Georgia “the divorced wife”.  Georgia spoke back and said that Mr. McCune was her divorced husband.  The Buffalo Morning Express printed the divorce documentation in the paper in March of 1885, including the salacious details about Mr. McCune’s adultery and the times and places at which it occurred.  Grover Cleveland was one of the lawyers involved in Georgia’s divorce case!  Georgia visited with her family, cleared her name and headed back to New York City.  In 1888, Georgia had to take her uncles James and Charles to court regarding the will of her father.  The estate had not been paying her the full amount of her inheritance stipends.  The estate was required to pay her the full amount.

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Grave of William Fargo Jr and his wife, Minerva. Photo by Author.

Son William George Fargo, Jr, died at age 27 in 1872.  His  pregnant wife Minerva survived him and twin girls Mary Carver and Annie E were born just a month after his death.  Minerva died in 1873, when the twins were just 7 months old.  After Minerva died, the twins lived at the Fargo Mansion, and were treated as members of the Fargo family.  Minerva’s will technically gave custody of the children to her mother, Mrs. Prendergast, who lived in Westfield, Chautauqua County (Chautauqua County friends will likely recognized the Prendergast name, they were an influential family there). Mrs. Prendergast would come to visit the children, and they visited with her in Westfield a few times on short visits.  In 1884, there was a heated legal battle for custody of their twins between the grandmothers, as Mrs. Prendergast wanted to return to Chautauqua County with the girls, taking them away from the only home they had known.  The court decided that Mrs. Prendergast had waived her rights to custody, by allowing the girls to live at the Fargo Mansion for 10 years.  Mrs. Fargo was awarded custody of the children, so they stayed at the Fargo Mansion, with the condition that Mrs. Prendergast and the children could visit.  The twins attended boarding school at Ogontz School for Young Ladies near Philadelphia beginning in 1888.  During breaks, they’d lived with their Aunt Georgia in New York City.  Mary Fargo married Louis Balliet in December 1896.  Annie Fargo married William Perry in February 1896, but sadly she was widowed just a year and a half later when her husband was thrown from a cart.  Annie married Frederick Albree in March 1900.

Daughter Helen Lacy Fargo married Herbert G. Squiers in 1881.  After marriage, Helen never again lived in Buffalo.  Mr. Squiers was  in the US military and served as US Ambassador to Berlin and Secretary of the US Legation in Pekin during the Boxer uprising.  He was later appointed minister to Cuba and to Panama.  In 1883, a suit in surrogate court between Helen Fargo Squires and the estate of her father, William G. Fargo, took place.  Helen was awarded $70,000 at that time, and she agreed to not use any of her remaining $150,000 until the death of her mother.  At the time, William Fargo’s estate was worth about $5,000,000 (about $121 Million today) which was held in trust by the executors for the heirs.  Helen died in 1886 due to complications during the birth of her fourth child.  After Helen’s death, Mr. Squiers contested her will in court.  There was much debate with the executors of William Fargo’s estate over whether Helen had intended that the money she inherited from her father should stay in trust until her children are of age, or whether Herbert had rights to that money.  The court decided in Herbert’s favor in 1887.

After William Fargo had died in 1881, his brothers James Fargo and Charles Fargo had been made Executors of William Fargo’s estate, along with Franklin D Locke, the family’s lawyer. James lived in New York City and Charles lived in Chicago.  In addition to his home, there were also other real estate holdings.  There was disagreement on how to deal with the property.  The heirs wanted to sell the properties, but the executors felt that the property should be held until the real estate market changed and prices in the area increased.  Property values in Buffalo were very low at the time.  A lawsuit resulted, which took nearly a decade to settle.

William G. Fargo Sr’s wife Anna died in July 1890.  Anna had remarried Francis Frederick Fargo (no relation to the original Fargo family) in 1883.  The contents of the mansion, except for special items, were left to Georgia and the twins Annie and Mary.  Mrs. Fargo’s will directed that the personal and real property be converted into cash at public auction  or private sale, and be invested for the benefit of Annie and Mary, who were just 16.  Mr. Francis Fargo, the second husband, died in 1891, just six months after his wife.  Daughter Georgia was the only child still living and she lived in New York City, with the twins staying with her when they were home from boarding school.  The Fargo family officially moved out of the Buffalo house in September 1891.

As soon as Anna Fargo died in 1890, there was a lot of debate over what to do with the mansion.  In 1900, the Buffalo Morning Express reported that:

“The house is so large, so spacious, so unseemly spacious, that but few families in Buffalo or out of it would care to take it as a home.  It might do for an old fashioned family of 16 children, but that kind of a family is scarce nowadays.  A more recent family of parents and two or three children would find themselves lost in such a vast house.  The Fargo mansion was built when entertaining was done on a much grander scale than in the present time.  The magnificent dances and royal dinners that the old mansion saw when William G. Fargo was alive made it famous.  The tendency nowadays is toward smaller and more exclusive entertainment than the good large-hearted days of yore, and therefore it would be difficult to discover a man that would use such a house a the present time in which to play host.  The Fargo mansion might do for the royal fetes of an emperor, but not for the more modest entertainments of a latter-day American family.”

It was estimated that William Fargo spent $50,000 (about $1.5 Million today) annually to maintain the house.  Articles of the time estimated that people would need at least half that to keep up the house.  The house had lofty ceilings, large rooms, and vast halls.  Therefore, most modern men of means preferred to build their houses as to the modern standards of architecture.  The Lower West Side was also no longer considered fashionable, as the millionaires of Buffalo moved to Delaware Avenue and North Street.  The house, which cost $500,000 ($12.1 Million today) to build was estimated to “only” be worth $150,000 ($4.9 Million today) in 1890.

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Fargo Mansion from the grounds. Source: Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo.

The contents of the mansion were sold at public auction in September of 1890.  Several thousand people were said to have attended the estate sale, many who came just to walk thru the mansion.

Some people wanted the mansion to be turned into a public institution – a hospital, a religious retreat, a library or an art gallery.  Public institutions generally do not have the funds to maintain such a large building and the required upkeep.  Georgia Fargo contemplated turning the house into a monument for the memory of her family.  Nothing ever came of her plan and she died in 1892, after two years of illness.  At that time, the only Fargo relatives still living were the 19-year old twins and four young grandchildren (ages 10, 9, 8, and 6), none of whom lived in Buffalo.  Georgia left most of her estate to the twins, Annie and Mary.  Georgia also set aside money for 9 of her existing and former servants in her will, including the following:

  • Mary Pedeberdot – $14,000 ($455,647 today)
  • Mary Coghlan $6,000 ($195,277 today)
  • Mrs. A Allman, seamstress – $1,500 ($48,819 today)
  • Isaac Clark – $1,000 ($32,546 today)
  • Mary Lane – $1,000 ($32,546 today)
  • Mary Murphy – $1,000 ($32,546 today)
  • Victor Belquien – $1,000 ($32,546 today)
  • Mrs. Egan – $500 ($16,273 today)
  • Martha Brown – $250 ($8,136 today)

In December 1891, the Fargo Mansion was listed for sale at $180,000 ($5.9 Million today) including the 5-acres that went with the house.  The executors of the estate had had zero offers in a year and a half on the market.  Ads were listed in the newspaper stating “Do you want a mansion?”  By the end of 1893, the estate was advertising for bids for the demolition of the house.

Some people wanted to turn the mansion into a high school.  In 1893, the City of Buffalo wanted to put an option on the property for the mansion and a property ten feet on each side of the mansion, but the executors wanted to sell the property in its entirety or not at all.  In March 1894, one of the Alderman tried to negotiate with the Fargo estate to trade the old Prospect Reservoir site for the Fargo mansion site.  The Fargo estate asked for $75,000 ($2.6 Million today) in addition to the Prospect Reservoir site (which was valued at $120,000 – $4.1 Million today –  at the time).  In addition to the high cost, many residents felt that the property was too large for a school and that the new high school should be located on the East Side, closer to the center of population.  Others felt that one of the biggest drawbacks of Buffalo’s Central High school was that it was carved out of a mansion, which made a rambling school, as opposed to a building built specifically for a school.  By December 1894, the Prospect Reservoir Site was being proposed for the site of what became the Connecticut Street Armory.

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St. Mary’s On the Hill church when it was crumbling before it was demolished. Source: https://buffaloah.com/a/niag/781/781.html

In December 1894, a benefit for St. Mary’s-on-the-Hill church was held at the Fargo Mansion.  The benefit was a holiday bazaar to raise money to pay of the debt off the church which was incurred to build their chapel at the corner of Vermont and Niagara Streets in 1893.  The bazaar ran for three days and raised over $2,000 (about $69,000 today).  Thousands of people attended the bazaar, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mansion one more time before it was torn down.  St. Mary’s-on-the-Hill closed in 1994 and crumbled in a demolition by neglect situation.  Despite a fight from preservationist, the church was eventually demolished in 2010.  The bell from the church was saved and is on display at the corner with a memorial to the church.  The site is now a parking lot for D’Youville College.

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Pencil Sketch of the Old Fargo Mansion, by HH Green. Source: The Buffalo Sunday Express.

The estate was still being contested by the heirs during this time and went to the supreme court in November 1898.  It took a full year to settle; the decision was made by Justice Warren B. Hooker to put the property on the market to be sold at Public Auction.  The Fargo Estate included $524,000 of real estate ($18.7 Million in today’s dollars) and had been tied up in court since William Fargo’s death in 1881.  The Fargo estate also included 160 acres of land in Cook County, Illinois.  All parties agreed that the land near Chicago was more valuable, so it did not need to be divided at that time, so the judgment only pertained to the Buffalo land.   The land included ten parcels:

  1. 200 Washington Street occupied by Filbrick’s bill posting agency.  Selling for $33,000
  2. The Times Block on Main Street above Exchange Street.  Selling for $50,000
  3. A leasehold interest in the Dunston Building at the Terrace and Seneca Street.  Selling for $15,000
  4. On Seneca Street west of Main, occupied by Buffalo Commercial Bank and insurance and real estate agencies.  Selling for $80,000
  5. A second parcel included with number 4.
  6. One story building at Franklin Street opposite city hall, next to Shea’s Garden Theatre on the north.  Owned by the Fargo and Cary heirs.  The Fargo interest was selling for $20,000
  7. The property from Pearl to Franklin Street opposite city hall occupied by Shea’s.  Occupied by Shea’s.  Owned by Fargo and Cary heirs.  Selling for $100,000
  8. The old Fargo home at Niagara near Franklin Street.  Selling for $50,000
  9. The old Fargo home on Fargo Avenue.  Originally cost $500,000 itself but “it is at present of but little value”.  The property was valued at $150,000.
  10. Warehouse on Express street, running from Franklin to Pearl north of Niagara Street.  Occupied by Adam, Meldrum and Anderson Company.  Selling for $26,000

The judgment stated that the properties must be disposed of and sold within one year of the judgement.  The judgment also said that if within three months of the judgment, the Fargo mansion doesn’t sell, it may be razed so that the property can be subdivided into building lots to be sold individually.

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Fargo Mansion Newel Post. In the Collection of Buffalo History Museum. Source: Buffalo History Museum

The staircases, mirrors, mantels, and bookcases from the mansion were sold off in 1900.  In December 1900, JC Mussen Building Contractor advertised in the Buffalo Commercial that they had secured part of the woodwork of the Fargo Mansion and were planning to use it to put up cheap buildings suitable for stores, concessions, restaurants, etc, for the Pan American year.  While many properties built for guests to attend the Pan Am were temporary, it is possible that some properties that were built during this time may still stand and may include wood from the Fargo Mansion.  The Newel Post from the staircase is in the collection of the Buffalo History Museum and was on display in the Buffalo Made exhibit for many years.  You can see from the photograph how detailed and intricate the entire staircase must have been!

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Fargo property today, outlined in blue.

The property was razed beginning in the fall of 1900.  The property was subdivided into parcels which were sold off for building lots.  An entire neighborhood developed on the Fargo property.  Today, the neighborhood is listed as the Fargo Estate Historic District, a national historic district.  Mr. Fargo’s estate was still being disputed in court by Mary and Annie (the twins) and the Squiers children as late as 1919.  Annie died in 1933 at her vacation home in Florence, Italy.  Mary died in 1951 in Como, Italy where she lived for the last 18 years of her life.

So next time you drive down Fargo Avenue, bank at Wells Fargo, use an American Express credit card, or visit Fargo, North Dakota, think of William Fargo and his family!  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:

  1. “To Be Sold:  The Fargo Real Estate in this City Will Be Disposed Of”.  Buffalo Commercial.  November 15, 1899, p9.
  2. “Beautifying the Village of Depew:  Landscape Architect William Webster is Making the Place Very Attractive.”  Buffalo Evening News.   June 4, 1898, p 7.
  3. Kelly, Edward.  “Many Changes in Fargo Avenue.”  Buffalo Times.  November 7, 1925, p14.
  4. “Razing the Fargo Mansion”.  Buffalo Times.  April 6, 1925, p6.
  5. “The Fargo Mansion:  Its Desirability for Use as a High School Urged”.  Buffalo Courier.  March 10, 1894, p5.
  6. “The Fargo House for a School”.  Buffalo Commercial.  March 7, 1894, p9.
  7. “Fargo-Fargo”.  Evening Telegraph.  August 9, 1883, p4.
  8. “The Fargo Will”.  The Evening Telegraph.  December 29, 1883, p1.
  9. “She Outstaid Her Welcome”.  Buffalo Evening News.  February 4, 1884, p8.
  10. “In Dispute”.  Buffalo Express.  February 2, 1884, p5.
  11. “They Remain At Home:  The Little Twin Sisters Stay at the Fargo Mansion.” Buffalo Times.  February 20, 1884.
  12. “Will The Old Fargo Mansion Fall?”  Buffalo Evening News.  May 2, 1890, p9.
  13. “A Grand Project:  Ultimate Disposition of the Fargo Mansion”.  Buffalo Express.  August 14, 1890, p5.
  14. “Interesting Inventory:  Appraisal of Pictures, Plate, Etc in the Fargo Mansion”.  Buffalo Courier.  September 12, 1890, p6.
  15. “Decadence of a Mansion”.  Buffalo Enquirer.  December 1, 1893, p5.
  16. “The Fargo House:  A Conspicuous Mansion Which May Soon be Torn Down”.  Buffalo Morning Express.  December 10, 1893, p5.
  17. “Memory of Express Pioneer Perpetuated in Street’s Name”.  Buffalo Courier Express.  November 10, 1940, p7-3.
  18. “Home and Society”.  Buffalo Morning express. June 16, 1889, p10
  19. “Helen Squiers’ Will:  Her Military Relict Wants it Liberally Interpreted”  Buffalo Times.  November 25, 1886, p5.
  20. “The Courts”.  Buffalo Morning Express. February 4, 1887, p6.
  21. “William G. Fargo”  The Buffalo Commercial.  August 4, 1881, p2.
  22. “WM G. Fargo Dead:  The Laborer’s Son Who Became One of America’s Wealthiest Men”.  Buffalo News.  August 3, 1881, p13.
  23. “Close of a Busy Career:  The Hon. William G Fargo Dies at Buffalo Yesterday”.  New York Times.  August 4, 1881, p5.
  24. “Wells Fargo History”.  https://www.wellsfargohistory.com/  accessed October 2022.
  25. “The Common Council”.  Buffalo Commercial.  June 22, 1869, p3.
  26. “Citation for Judicial Settlement”.  Buffalo Times.  August 4, 1919, p8.
  27. Severance, Frank.  Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo.  1912.
  28. The McCune Divorce.  Buffalo Express.  March 24, 1885, p5.
  29. Mrs. Fargo’s Will.  Buffalo Morning Express.  July 23, 1890, p5.
  30. Buell, Franklyn.  Fall of the House of Fargo Recalls Days When Buffalo Was A Gateway to the West.  Buffalo Evening News.  May 5, 1971, p28.

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Accepting the award

I was awarded the Owen B. Augspurger award from the Buffalo History Museum!  The award was established in 1974 in honor of Mr. Augspurger, who was a former History Museum president.  The award is presented to an individual for outstanding service to the cause of local history.  The award is given out annually at the Museum’s Red Jackets Awards Ceremony, which was held last night.  I am honored to be among the distinguished list of past recipients.

Here are the remarks I gave during the ceremony:

I’m so honored to be receiving this award.  My streets project started because I went to the library to find out how Keppel street got its name.  I know it’s not named after my family, as my dad is an immigrant and all of our Keppel family is still in the Netherlands.  All these years later, and I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the Keppel street name, but I’ve learned about so many streets along the way.  I was boring my friends telling them the stories I was uncovering, so I started to write the stories to share them on a blog, and Discovering Buffalo, One Street at a Time was born.  I never really thought it was something that other people would really care about.  But I think my blog works because streets are something that are personal to us all.  Everyone comes from a street – whether it’s the street where dad lived when he first moved to town,  the streets where grandma and grandpa lived, they’re all full of memories.  And so there’s a connection, even if the person the street was named after had little to do with the actual street.  It’s a way to connect with our history in a hyper local way.  When I started, I thought I’d maybe have 12 followers.  And now there’s more than 9,000 of us!

As a professional urban planner, I get to live part time in the future, looking forward to new development projects, looking at how to build a better community for our future.  Because of my work in history, I get to live in the fabulous juxtaposition between the past and the future.  I cannot help but look at projects like the new Ralph Wilson Park they’re building at Lasalle Park and be really excited for what’s coming, but in my mind, I also see the canal slips and heavy industry that 1932 Buffalo decided to turn into a park to celebrate the city’s centennial. I live in the Hotel Lafayette, a grand historic hotel, and sometimes, if I squint my eyes, I can see those who came before walking down the hallways.  I get to live our history every single day, living and working in the heart of downtown which our city grew, radiating out from Niagara Square like spokes on a wagon wheel.

I think Mr. Augspurger and I would have gotten along, both because of our interest in local history and also Mr. Augspurger’s work on downtown development projects like the Main Place Mall and the parking ramps.  One of the things I do for my job is to track parking, so I can tell you that the Augspurger Ramp is about 74% occupied.

Thank you to everyone who has followed along, to Debra for nominating me, to the History Museum, and to everyone who has shared my posts, or come to hear me speak.  My favorite thing is when people share their stories with me, which adds to the rich tapestry of the city that lives in my brain.  I hope to keep learning and keep sharing for a long time to come!

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Owen B. Augspurger Parking Ramp

Those of you who came to my University Express Talks last fall will know that I have been researching urban renewal plans of the 1950s and 60s and how they impacted Downtown and the neighborhoods around it.  The creation of Main Place Mall, which Mr. Augspurger helped make happen, was Buffalo’s first private urban redevelopment plan.  Previous urban redevelopment projects had been to create government owned housing projects.  I know that Main Place Mall gets a bum rap, but it was a successful mall for many decades after opening and holds a special place in the retail history of downtown.  I have fond memories of going to the food court for lunch on school field trips and sneaking off to grab a book at Walden Books while every else ate lunch.  Mr. Augspurger also helped to create the off street parking program for downtown, hence the parking ramp was named for him.  Mr. Augspurger was also involved in helping to save the Ainsley Wilcox mansion and create the Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural Site, which long time readers of my blog will know was also the house of Judge Masten!

I really truly appreciate all of you have been along for this journey!  I have some new posts coming soon!   I’m working on rewriting the very first post I ever wrote, now that I have some new research.  Also coming up will be posts about when the corner of Walden and Bailey was “way out in the country”, some info about the Erie County Penitentiary, and a story about a man who had too many handkerchiefs!

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House of Lewis Falley Allen on what is now Niagara Street.

I have also began working on trying to little deeper into some of the people I’m researching.  One of the things I want to do is talk about “the help”.  I think it’s important to remember that these men who “built” Buffalo, they built it with lots of help.  I’ve been working to dig into my research to try to find info about live-in help that lived with some of the families I write about.  I want to try to give a glimpse into what early Buffalo life was like for the influential, and give a name to those who have been forgotten to history.  For example, I have learned that Lewis Falley Allen had a staff of five to run his household.  The staff in 1880 included housekeeper, Elizabeth Ryan, a 50 year old woman from Ireland and her 20 year old daughter Agnes who served as a servant; servants Rosa Bronson, a 16 year old girl, from New York; Emma Hudson, 27 year old woman from Canada; and John Hogan, a 24 year old man from Ireland.  Look forward to more info like this in future posts.

Lastly, I will be giving my last walking tour of the season on Sunday, October 9th at 1pm, Discovering Lower Main Street.  Click here for more about the tour.  The tour ends right next to Southern Tier Brewery if anyone wants to watch the end of the Bills game after the tour.  Hope to see some of you there!

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