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November 2013

Step back into the 19th Century at Lancaster’s Hull Family Home


            When you step inside the stone house at the Hull Family Home & Farmstead in Lancaster, you can imagine what life was like when Warren and Polly Hull and their 12 children called it home back in the early 1800’s. The house, which was built in c. 1810, is a rare example of early Federal style architecture and is the oldest stone dwelling in Erie County. The house and surrounding grounds are currently undergoing restoration, with the goal of having the site fully restored to its 1810 appearance in the near future.


History of the family

            Warren Hull, a Revolutionary War veteran, his wife Polly, and their children moved to western New York from Connecticut in 1804. They cleared the land and established a farm on the site, including the house, barn, and several outbuildings. While living here the family witnessed the War of 1812, the burning of Buffalo in 1813 and the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. As adults, most of the Hull children lived and died in the Lancaster area, however, many of the grandchildren were part of the westward movement, settling in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.


Restoration efforts

            What makes this house particularly remarkable is that much of the structure is original as Warren Hull built it, including the woodwork in the flooring, doorways, some of the windows, window seats, stairways, banisters, and fireplace mantle. Another unique feature of the house is the original beehive bake oven in the basement kitchen, which is in such good condition that plans are underway to use it for cooking demonstrations sometime in the near future.

            In 1992, the house was purchased by the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier (which became Preservation Buffalo Niagara) to make sure it was preserved. Since it had such significant history, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993; it is also on the New York State Register of Historic Places. The all-volunteer Hull House Foundation was formed in 2006 to oversee the restoration and operate the site as a living history center.

            During a recent event at the site, volunteer Jeanette Dickinson gave me a tour of the home. She pointed out many of the recent restorations that volunteers have been undertaking, including plastering, repairing, and lime-washing the walls, as well as repairing and refinishing the woodwork. “We’ve also put up walls that had been there originally when the Hulls lived in the home, but then taken down by subsequent owners when the house was modernized,” said Dickinson. She pointed out that they have put in radiant heating under the floors, so that the home could be heated for modern visitors, yet still be period correct in appearance. “Except for a few specialists, like the stone mason who rebuilt the fireplace and installed the new windows, and the roof restoration that was done by professionals, much of the work has been done by volunteers,” said Dickinson. “It’s all a labor of love,” she added.

            In addition to the restoration of the house, the two-level barn on the property will be reconstructed and archaeologists and a historic landscape architect are in the process of determining where outbuildings should be rebuilt. The site’s future plans include having a working farm, livestock buildings, and an education center with exhibits where visitors can learn more about the past. There are also plans to fully restore the Hull family cemetery, which is located on the property.


Educational programs

            “Our summer history camp was a huge success,” said Dickinson. Eighteen kids in grades 3 through 8 spent the week at the Hull Family Home & Farmstead being immersed in 19th Century life. “They did chores, such as building a rail fence and shucking corn, and made crafts like sachets and messenger bags,” said Dickinson. She added, “They had a great time and learned a lot; they were exposed to many different things and they really got into it.” Some of the other activities they participated in included playing period games and cooking beef stew over an open fire. During the spring, tours are given to school groups, with interpreters staying in character in the year 1820.


Special events

            The Hull Family Home & Farmstead hosts a number of special events from May to December. Events include a Mother’s Day Tea in May (held in the adjacent Victorian-era home owned by the foundation), a Heritage Arts Fair in June, featuring period crafts such as candle making and fiber arts, along with period music. They also do a couple of candlelight tours of the home, as well as an open house, and a fundraiser. Sunday restoration tours are held June through September. Their next planned event is their Winter Guided House tour on December 8th.

            For more information about the home and upcoming events, visit their website or call 681-6451. The Hull Family Home & Farmstead is located at 5976 Genesee Street at Pavement Road in Lancaster.