National Historic Landmarks abound in western New York
Western New York has over two dozen National Historic Landmarks. But what exactly are National Historic Landmarks and what makes them so special? National Historic Landmarks are places where significant historical events occurred, where prominent Americans lived or worked, represent important ideals from the past, or feature outstanding architectural design.
According to the National Parks Service, which oversees the National Historic Landmark Program, there are less than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks throughout the United States. They are designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.
Some use the term National Historic Landmark interchangeably with the term National Historic Register, but they are actually two very different designations. Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are much more common, with about 85,000 of them nationwide. To be on the National Historic Register a building must merely be considered a cultural resource worthy of preservation.
This article will only focus on those buildings which have the Landmark designation, since we are fortunate to have such a large number of them in our region. At the end of this article, links to several websites will be suggested for additional information. Since this is a travel article, we’ll start with the landmark in our region the furthest from Buffalo and work our way back home.
Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva, built in 1839, is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the country. The 21 room mansion, which overlooks Seneca Lake in OntarioCounty, is furnished in antiques and period reproductions. Named after Robert Rose, one of the original owners of the land, the mansion was built by General William Strong. The mansion is opened for guided tours May-October www.genevahistoricalsociety.com
Native American Site
Also in OntarioCounty is Ganondagan, a 277-acre historic site which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Ganondagan was the location of a 17th Century Seneca village, which was attacked and destroyed by the French in 1687. You can learn about the Seneca clan by viewing exhibits at the visitor’s center and by touring a full-size replica of a bark longhouse that is located on the grounds. The visitor’s center is open May-October; the grounds are open year-round. www.ganondagan.org
A National Historic LandmarkVillage
The entire village of Geneseo in LivingstonCounty was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. Architects consider the village a museum of historic buildings; many are built in Federal and Colonial Revival style. The two mansions on either end of Main Streetwere built by the founders of Geneseo, brothers James and William Wadsworth. For more information about Geneseo, visit www.livingstoncountyhistoricalsociety.com
Homes of notables people in Rochester
There are two National Historic Landmarks in the city of Rochester, the homes of George Eastman and Susan B. Anthony. The George Eastman House, which now houses the International Museum of Photography and Film, is one of my favorite places to visit. This 37 room mansion, located on 12 acres along East Avenue, was the largest single family home ever built in MonroeCounty. It has been restored to what it looked like during Eastman’s lifetime. George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, was responsible for bringing photography to the common man. If you visit during the summer months, be sure to take a guided tour of the gardens, as well as the interior tour. It is open year-round. www.eastmanhouse.org
Susan B. Anthony was another notable who made her home in Rochester. It was from this circa 1850 home that Anthony planned the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. The Victorian home, now a museum, is filled with memorabilia and displays about the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. The home is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
All land transactions came through this office
The Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia is significant, as it was from this building that land transactions for all of western New York were processed. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961 because of the company’s role in the development of WNY.
The 1815 Federal-style building was built with 20” thick stone walls, making it fireproof. It was saved from demolition in 1894 and today the museum has exhibits focusing on GeneseeCounty history. www.hollandlandoffice.com The museum is open year-round and admission is free.
Cobblestone masonry was developed in western New York after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. Route 104, which runs from Lewiston to past Rochester, has the distinction of having the most cobblestone buildings along it than any other road in America. The Cobblestone Museum Complex, located on Route 104, just north of Albion, features three National Historic Landmark cobblestone buildings, which include the oldest cobblestone church in North America (1834), a parsonage (1840), and a schoolhouse (1849). The museum is open the end of June-Labor Day. www.cobblestonesocietymuseum.org
The charming Victorian gated community known as the Chautauqua Institution, which offers visitors a respite from modern life, is best known for its nine week summer season that offers performing arts, education, religion and recreation. The 856 acre institution is a designated National Historic District because of the numerous historic buildings of interest, including the chalet-style Lewis Miller cottage, which is a National Historic Landmark. Miller, who founded the Chautauqua Institution, had the cottage pre-cut in Akron, Ohio, and then shipped to Chautauqua for assembly. The cottage is not open to the public, however, the grounds of the institution are open year-round (an entrance fee is charged during the summer) www.ciweb.org
Special places in historic East Aurora
Two National Historic Landmarks are located in East Aurora, the MillardFillmoreHouseMuseum and the Roycroft Campus.
Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, began his law career in East Aurora, years before he ran for public office. He built this house for his new bride, Abigail, in 1825. Today, costumed docents from the Aurora Historical Society give tours of the home, which includes furnishings owned by the Fillmore family. The museum is open June-October. www.aurorahistoricalsociety.com
East Aurora’s other landmark is the 14 building Roycroft Campus, which was an Arts and Crafts Community built by Elbert Hubbard in the early 1900’s. The self-contained community, which was known nationally, had over 500 craftsmen, including furniture makers, metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders. Thousands of people traveled here to learn about the Arts and Crafts movement, many staying at the Roycroft Inn, which today also welcomes guests. www.roycrofters.com, www.roycroftcampuscorporation.com
Niagara County Landmarks
There are actually four National Historic Landmarks in NiagaraCounty. While most people will know of Old Fort Niagara’s landmark status, the other three, Niagara Falls State Park, Lewiston Portage Landing Site, and the Adams Power Plant Transformer House, are not as widely known.
Old FortNiagara is a place to step back in time and see what life was like for soldiers in the 1700’s. The fort’s FrenchCastle is the oldest structure in the Great Lakes region.
Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the nation, was established in 1885 and designed by noted landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. The park, which includes Goat Island and several other small islands, is located next to the falls.
Lewiston Portage Landing Site, located in Artpark, marks the spot where Native Americans and fur traders would land their vessels so they could portage them around the falls. An ancient Native American burial mound is located here.
The Adams Power Plant Transformer Station, one of our area’s lesser known landmarks, is considered the birthplace of the modern power generating station. It was the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world in 1895.
Buffalo has eight National Historic Landmarks, plus one National Historic Site, within the city limits. National Historic Sites are even rarer than National Historic Landmarks, with only 90 in the nation. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, also known as the WilcoxMansion, is significant as it is the site of a presidential inauguration, one of only six presidential inaugural sites outside of Washington DC.
Briefly, here are Buffalo’s National Historic Landmarks and their significance.
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society –One of the country’s oldest historical societies and the only remaining structure from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.
Darwin Martin House- Built by noted architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, it is considered one of the finest residences in the world.
Edward M. Cotter- This fireboat, built in 1900, is the oldest operating fireboat in the United States.
H.H. Richardson Complex (Buffalo Psychiatric Center). This building complex, which features the two distinctive 184 foot towers, was considered the greatest work of renowned architect Henry Hudson Richardson.
Kleinhans Music Hall-Considered the finest work of architects, Ethel and Eero Saarinen, and F.J. and W.A. Kidd, it is known for its acoustic excellence.
Prudential Building- Also known as the GuarantyBuilding, this building designed by Louis Henry Sullivan was cutting edge when it was built in 1895. The outside of the structure features intricate art nouveau terra cotta decorations.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral- This Gothic Revival-style church built in 1851, Buffalo’s first designated National Historic Landmark, is considered the finest church designed by Richard Upjohn.
USS Sullivans- This destroyer, located in the BuffaloNavalPark, was named after five brothers killed while serving during WWII.
To learn more about National Historic Landmarks and Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, here are some websites to visit:
Local architectural historian, Chuck LaChiusa, who leads tours for Buffalo Tours, has put together an impressive website about Buffalo Architecture and History www.buffaloah.com