by Fred Schrock

Archive for August, 2013

The Oldest Building in Erie County . . . is Moving?

Sometime this September, a 200-year-old log cabin will be picked up and transported four miles to a “new” historic site.

According to an article by John Conlin in the Winter 2003 issue of Western New York Heritage, the oldest surviving building in Erie County is the Gipple Log Cabin built by a frontier settler named Asa Woodward in Lancaster c. 1803.  The Hull Family Home and Farmstead plans to place it on its property for interpretive use.  Rev. Walter Kern took this photo of the cabin in 1974:
This structure represents the very earliest history of organized settlement in Western New York.  Asa (or Amos, depending on the source) and  James Woodward bought this plot of land directly from the Holland Land Company in November 1803 (Lot 6. Section 12 of Town 11 in Range 6 to be precise).  A year would pass before Warren Hull bought the property where the cabin will soon move.

Some refer to the Gipple Log Cabin as the Bowman-Gipple Cabin.  Benjamin Bowman was another early settler and a mill operator; the hamlet of Bowmansville in Lancaster is named after him as well.  Like many frontier settlers such a cabin would be a “starter home” that could be assembled quickly before the first winter set in.  Subsequent years of land-clearing would allow families to add additions or build more permanent homes.  The Gipple family, while not the original landowners and who probably did not use the cabin as a residence, probably lived on this land the longest.  A cursory look at census records shows Clement Gipple owning the farm as early as 1910.  Clement’s mother Ella was a Bowman.  His son Russell remained on the land as an adult; both men passed away in the 1970s.

Russell Gipple c.1917 and c.1949. Sister Edith and wife Hazel are also pictured. All images from Ancestry.com.

A couple years ago I went out with a camera to get a better look.  The Gipple Cabin can be found at the southwest corner of the intersection of Harris Hill Road and Wehrle Drive in Lancaster.  It now exists at the very corner of an expanding office development whose parking lot ends only a few yards from the front door.  What is left of the building has been threatened with demolition several times in the past few years.  According to locals, previous efforts to manage or restore the former home–even to visit it–were prevented by owners.

Long story short, the cabin is in horrible shape.  It is held up by force of habit and could hardly be considered a building anymore.  I highly recommend checking out this 360-degree view of the interior where sunlight can be seen from every side.  Here is my photo of the home taken thirty-five years after Rev. Kern:

Exploring the 1803 Gipple Log Cabin from Jafafa Hots on VimeoMore photos here.

Of course there are serious questions about the ability to move such a compromised structure, harming the building’s historicity through relocation, and even why the land should be given up for suburban sprawl.  Considering its ragged state, however, moving the Gipple Cabin to a place where it can be safely appreciated by the general public is a whole lot better than the inevitable alternative.  Perhaps it will be moved and kept at its current state; perhaps it will be restored and become a visitor draw like the c.1820 Goodrich-Landow Log Cabin at the Clarence Historical Society.  To keep up to date with developments, please visit the Hull Family Home’s Facebook page.

Hull House volunteers clear debris to access the Gipple Cabin.

Below are some other photos I posted on the former Buffalo Tours blog in 2009.  You can see the cabin predates Bowman’s 1808 saw mill by the axe-cut logs.  The no-nails construction is original but the many alterations–some haphazard–to repair walls and supports extend over the centuries.  Window and stovepipe holes can be found, temporary roof patches dangle from the ceiling, and vegetation hides the rest.

UPDATE: I received a note on 8/30/13 from Hull House Foundation President Gary Costello about their progress: “We have cleared the vegetation over-growth, documented the structure and ‘tagged’ the logs; will visit it with several knowledgeable architects to further ‘diagnose’ it; then dissemble and move to the Hull House site; seek funding to rebuild and develop a plan for its placement on the HH site and for its interpretation. A great addition to the Hull Family Home & Farmstead!”

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The Market Arcade: Buffalo’s Past Reborn

Note: With news that the Market Arcade is for sale by the City of Buffalo, I thought it a good time to post this article I originally published in the now-defunct Buffalo Downtowner.

One of the feature buildings in downtown Buffalo is probably better known to vacationers than Buffalo natives.  The Market Arcade at 617 Main Street is home to Visit Buffalo Niagara and its Visitor Center.  Overshadowed by Shea’s and other gems in the historic Theater District, it is just as historic and architecturally significant.*  The stories surrounding the building play out as a microcosm of Buffalo’s past.

A gift from a long-closed jewelry store on the second floor. Note the writing on the box. (Click to enlarge.)

While post-Civil War America boomed economically, the nation’s switch from guns to plowshares pushed people farther westward.  Buffalo served as a gateway to the western frontier in its role as a hub for rail transportation and inland shipping.  This is when Buffalo experienced its greatest growth spurt: the population grew from 150,000 people in 1880 to 350,000 by 1900, making Buffalo (for a very short time) the eighth-largest metropolis in the United States.  By 1890 Americans had effectively populated the West to the point that the US Census Bureau could no longer draw a frontier border on a map.  Interestingly, the 1890 census was calculated by what is considered the first computer, invented by Buffalo native Herman Hollerith.  The company he founded is known today as IBM.

At Chicago’s World Colombian Exposition of 1893, which was supposed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier closed.  Downtown Buffalo rebuilt itself as a commercial and financial center during this period.  Residential neighborhoods shifted to the area’s outskirts, creating what is now considered a modern American cityscape.  Many of our most famous downtown buildings, including the Ellicott Square building (by Chicago’s D. H. Burnham & Co., involved in building the Chicago Exposition), the Guaranty Building (by the Chicago firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan), and the gold-domed Buffalo Savings Bank (by the local firm of Green and Wicks) were erected between the 1890 census and the Pan-Am year of 1901.

The Market Arcade, known for a while as the Palace Arcade, was designed by Green and Wicks in 1892.  At one entrance, Main Street was a bustling business district of Civil War-era structures with numerous small storefronts.  At the other, Washington Street bordered the busy Chippewa Market (also known as the Washington Market).  Though a parking lot today, the open-air farmers’ market accommodated dozens of stands and hundreds of urban customers at a time.  The largest retail market west of the Hudson River, it was known as the “Belly of Buffalo.”  Much like Buffalo was a gateway between the eastern and western halves of America, the Market Arcade was a pass-through for local commercial traffic on these two streets.

Instead of looking toward Chicago for ideas, however, property owner and oil tycoon GB Marshall asked architects EB Green and WS Wicks to contemplate European arcades.  Though built before 1820, the Burlington Arcade in London resembles a modern shopping center.  With its bright but narrow interior and floor-to-ceiling windows for shops on both sides, the Burlington Arcade connects Burlington Gardens to Picadilly and bears a striking resemblance to Green and Wicks’ building in Buffalo.  Indeed, the Market Arcade is Buffalo’s first mall.

The multi-leveled convergences of commerce and office space were similarly used in Naples, Italy for the Galleria Umberto I, completed just one year earlier.  The Market Arcade’s floor is covered in terrazzo tiles and the exterior composed of yellow Roman brick, which is longer than regular bricks and emphasizes horizontality.  Frank Lloyd Wright utilized this quality of Roman brick when building the Darwin Martin House and other Prairie Style homes.  Large Roman numerals top the building’s identical facades.  Corinthian Vermont marble pillars at both entrances and egg and dart molding also demonstrate Italian Renaissance Revival flourishes.

Some of the best features of the Market Arcade are both practical and aesthetic.  Built before electric lighting, the frosted glass skylight makes the atrium seem like an outdoor alley.  Overpasses on the second and third levels and sections of the floors encase glass blocks, bringing natural light all the way into the basement.  Large glass panes, rare at the time of construction, are perfect for window shopping.  The long, straight passageway resembles a tiny street but also provides excellent ventilation in summer without the use of air conditioning.

Green and Wicks’ use of terra cotta is probably the most stunning feature of the Market Arcade.  Visitors are greeted by two bison heads located above the Roman arches.  They keep watch over Main and Washington streets and are detailed to the last hair.  While seemingly extravagant today, terra cotta (Latin for “baked earth”) was originally a cheap substitute for carved sculpture.  The terra cotta forms of the Market Arcade—the garlands, crowning acroteria, and rosettes—can be replaced at a cost 80 percent cheaper than stone.

The material is also fireproof, an important selling point for storekeepers in the late 19th century.  Between the formation of the modern Buffalo Fire Department in 1880 and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, eighteen firefighters died in the line of duty.  Entire city blocks would burn at a time.  One of the most famous city fires occurred on Ascension Day, 1888.  A gas line ignited, blowing the roof off of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and setting small fires throughout the city.  Today, many skyscrapers still enclose their steel beams in terra cotta to avoid buckling under intense heat.

A 1974 city directory shows numerous vacancies in 617 Main St. (click to enlarge)

By the 1970s the Chippewa Market had long closed down (though yesterday’s Buffalo News suggests it is still open) and Main Streets across America lost customers to suburban strip malls.  Business in the Arcade followed suit and the building was shuttered; the city acquired it in a bankruptcy proceeding in 1979.  By the mid-1980s, enough interest led to an $8.3 million restoration.  One of the leaders of this renovation, Dennis Powers, is memorialized on a plaque next to the building’s new elevators.  The Allentown-based firm of Hamilton Houston Lownie, which converted the St. Mary of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church to the King Urban Life Center at about the same time, completed the restoration in 1995.  Visiting both landmarks, one can see the vibrant splashes of reds, purples, greens and oranges that became the firm’s calling card.

Mid-’90s restoration photo from BRDConstruction.com

Today, the building boasts the CEPA Gallery and the headquarters of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, as well as several small businesses.  Many visitors still freely walk through this impressive building to access the Metro Rail or catch shows at Shea’s Performing Arts Center or the Irish Classical Theatre.

*Official documents pertaining to the designation of the Theater District as a historic district use the -er spelling for “theater.”  However, area theaters now market the overlapping entertainment district known as the Theatre District using -re.  For more background, check out this very interesting Artvoice article by Anthony Chase.