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Why The Wilkeson House Is Historic

I’m not going to refute all the arguments with which I disagree in this Buffalo News editorial, which says that it’s dumb to force the Public Bridge Authority to maintain the houses it owns on Busti, and to prevent the PBA from demolishing them until they’re finished with the environmental review process—which is required by law, as the Federal Highway Authority reminded the PBA in this letter to general manager Ron Rienas.

But I will contend that this statement is dead wrong:

None of the houses involved rises to the level of historic or aesthetic value that would make this worth a preservationist crusade.

That’s complete hogwash. The Samuel H. Wilkeson house at 771 Busti is, in addition to being beautiful, a direct link to one of the most celebrated members of one of Buffalo’s founding families. It is precisely the sort of structure that spurs preservationist crusades, and I imagine that any effort to demolish the house—last week, next week, two years from now—will encounter opposition.

Consider its history, as researched by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo:

Colonel Samuel H. Wilkeson's house at 771 Busti.
Colonel Samuel H. Wilkeson’s house at 771 Busti. Photo by David Torke.

The three-story mansion was built around 1864 by Charles Storms, whose company—Storms & Dorer, located on Lloyd Street in the Canal District—specialized in the manufacture of buckets for grain elevators. At the time, the street was named Sixth, and the Storms lived there until 1882; in 1884 the street was renamed Front Avenue, in reference to Frederick Law Olmsted’s the Front, the park which the house overlooked. Olmsted considered the Front to be the jewel of the park and parkway system he’d designed for Buffalo in 1868, the first of its kind in the country. In 1894, Front Avenue was designated a parkway, and the city’s park commissioners remodeled it with Olmsted’s vision in mind. In 1929, Front Avenue was renamed again, this time after Paul Busti, who had worked with surveyor Joseph Ellicott to lay out Buffalo’s street grid in 1804.

Colonel Samuel H. Wilkeson moved into the house in 1885, and lived there for 18 years. He was the grandson of Samuel Wilkeson, whose gravestone at Forest Lawn reads “He built the city by building its harbor.” The elder Wilkeson is credited with securing the terminus of the Erie Canal for Buffalo, and was mayor of the city in 1836, when his grandson and namesake was born.

Samuel H. Wilkeson enlisted in the army in May 1861, as first lieutenant in Company H, 21st New York Volunteer Regiment. He was 24. Twelve of his siblings and cousins answered Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Two—his brother John and his cousin Bayard—would be killed in action. None distinguished himself in service as Samuel did.

In February 1862, Wilkeson was made captain of Company C, Scott’s 900, officially listed as the Eleventh New York Cavalry. Four months later he was promoted to major; in December 1862, in recognition of daring raids in and around Harpers Ferry, he was made lieutenant colonel and joined Lincoln’s cavalry escort. In the following year, he was dispatched to Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Tennessee, where his reputation continued to grow. In charge after charge, Wilkeson’s men harried the celebrated Confederate cavalry of Jeb Stuart, 900 men versus 10,000, preventing Stuart’s timely arrival at Gettysburg, to which Robert E. Lee attributed his defeat there. Promoted to full colonel, Wilkeson was stationed in Memphis when the war ended.

On returning to Buffalo, Wilkeson joined his father in managing the Wilkeson grain elevator, built in 1858, one of the first of its kind. (It burned down in 1911.) When his sister, Louise, died in 1904, Wilkeson moved into the family mansion on Niagara Square, which was torn down after Wilkeson’s death in 1915 to make room, eventually, for City Hall.

The house at 771 Busti is the city’s only remaining structure tied to the Wilkeson family. I’d say that “rises to the level of historic or aesthetic value that would make this worth a preservationist crusade.” More to the point, I think the preservation community feels that it does.


  • Magilla Schaus

    The Buffalo News editorial in today’s newspaper comes on this historic day in China. Twenty years ago on this day people who wanted self determination were run down by tanks and shot, imprisoned, or run out of their home land.

    Oppression of people comes in big and small forms and it is based on maintaining corrupt and anti democratic structures. The Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority intends to send in their mechanized equipment and tare down a neighborhood and increase the pollution and respiratory disease levels on the West Side of Buffalo. Our upstate community has the highest levels of ozone pollution in New York.

    The salt that is being rubbed in our eyes and mouths by the Buffalo News Editorial staff and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority is not based on fact but upon greed and corporate/authority subservience.

    Yes indeed we can see that the historic homes on Busti Avenue have been blighted.

    Stop the tanks of the Buffalo News and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-nXT8lSnPQ

  • Jim Kane

    Geoff –

    Thanks for the editorial – a welcome read from someone other than the ONE editor at The Buffalo News who has the unmitigated gall to pick on a what he calls “a few people” who “shouldn’t be allowed to stand obstinately in the way of the public’s legitimate needs.”

    Legitimate? Does the ONE editor understand what and why LAWS ARE MADE in these United States? Perhaps he or she should refer back to Journalism 101 class and look up “The Constitution of the United States of America” see: Bill of Rights, and other things related to: U.S. citizens not being subject to tyranny, for instance, or laws, from say other sovereignties, like Canada, for another instance.

    The Great Publically Funded – BUT NOT PUBLIC – Bridge Authority and The Buffalo News (after that completely shallow “editorial” today you can consider The Buffalo News as “partners” with unpublic PBA) just want to incite whatever level of indignation they can get from a community-at-large that has given up on the fools and the foolishness at the PBA long ago!

    The PBA’s “expansion-paralysis” has now wreaked havoc on this neighborhood for over 20 years and here in year 2009 the “commissioners” at the PBA have wasted away $50 Million U.S. federal tax dollars (via FHWA appropriations) and they can’t repair a few roofs and windows on their OWN properties in the City of Buffalo?

    Question? Any dilapidated properties owned by the PBA in Fort Erie? Didn’t think so.

  • There a number of additional pics of the Wilkeson House in this flickr series –
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fixbuffalo/sets/72157618808209859/

  • pbm

    If you ever took a walk down Busti, you would see how beautiful this house really is. All of the houses in this stretch have great things about them, the most important being their proximity to the water and amazing views.

    The PBA is shameful. Byron Brown and his cronies are shameful. So is Brian Higgins. The Buffalo News is shameful. When people come in from out of town, they basically don’t believe that our public officials are selling us (and our natural attractions) out.

    LaSalle Park is getting that great new swimming pool that I’m sure the mayor loves to claim as his own. Too bad that the waterfront just a little ways away is going to be all concrete, all with his blessing.

    No, no dilapidated properties in Fort Erie. Of course not, it’s Canada.

    MOVE THE TRUCKS OUT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD! MOVE THEM TO AN APPROPRIATE PLACE! GO AMBASSADOR BRIDGE!

  • C$GB

    “Infantryman, cavalryman, partisan ranger, commander of the famous Scott’s 900, pursuer of Mosby, leader of his regiment in the long two weeks Ripley Raid into the very heart of the Confederacy, defender of Washington against the dashing onslaught of the great southern cavalry leader, the immortal General J. E. B. Stuart — in fact, a real Soldier of Fortune, whose fighting record parallels Richard Harding Davis’ most sanguine heroes — such is the war record of Colonel Samuel H. Wilkeson — registered upon Uncle Sam’s war books as commanding colonel of what is officially known as the 11th New York Cavalry through the great war of the Rebellion.” – Buffalo Times, Dec. 15, 1907

  • Thank you Art Voice for trying to get the truth out to the public!

    Today’s editorial by the Buffalo News is unbelievably shameful and irresponsible reporting.
    The only thing more disgraceful is how our city allowed the PBA to continue to neglect these properties.
    Imagine the power this “Public” authority has in influencing the editorial staff of the Buffalo News!

  • peterjoe

    ARTVOICE, fast becoming the paper of record. BUFFALO NEWS, soon becoming the paper of toilet.

  • peterjoe

    P.S. Magilla: Be part of out “bomb squad” and submit your comments to the Buffalo News as a letter to the editor.
    condemned resident peterjoe

  • Magilla Schaus

    I’m not a bomber but an outraged member of this West Side community. I’m so sick of the rich and powerful ruining the street and neighborhood that my family resides on. D’Youville College, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority and a steady progression of absentee landlords have done a shameful amount of damage to my community.

    My sword is the pen and my shield is my family, friends, and community.

    This is what I also blogged on the Buffalo News blog site:

    http://blogs.buffalonews.com/opinion/2009/05/big-problem-partial-solution.html#comments

  • condemned resident peterjoe

    Magilla–and all of you–join us in our barrage of letters to the editor of the Buffalo News. Of the several submitted, we’ve already had 2 accepted. Send in yours, and they may print us together in the Sunday edition.

  • Magilla Schaus

    My email letter to the editor was submitted today.

  • particulate matters

    Thank you Artvoice for your continued accurate,fair and honest reporting. The Buffalo News continues to lose legitimacy and maybe soon enough subscribers. If I wanted to read lies and political self serving propaganda on a regular basis I would much rather subscribe to the Enquirer. The arrogance of TBN is quite similar to that of the PBA- should change their name to TBNA( The Buffalo News Authority).

  • condemned resident peterjoe

    Thanks, Magilla. They can’t ignore us all (or can they?).

  • Magilla Schaus

    Big, corporate media such as the Buffalo News cunningly writes the terms of issues in our community and across our country. The facts that Busti Avenue homes are inhabitable if they were repaired, that housing codes should be enforced, that constructing a new truck plaza on the West Side increases air pollution and respiratory disease, and most importantly that we are governed by a constitution that is designed first and foremost for, by, and of the people and not the corporation or authority. The citizens of this part of the West Side should have the greatest say in any change to our community. Our government is supposed to serve the people and not corrupt government officials or non elected authorities.

    Last weeks, Buffalo News editorial rubber stamped the opinions of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority. The editorial was nothing better than a biased press release. The Buffalo News editorial is another example of the non transparent, subversive and subtle process that has been orchestrated to serve the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority. The self appointed kings of media and authority have revealed on multiple occasions their naked intentions to exploit the truth and the people of the West Side.

    The puppet masters in the Buffalo News are bringing more of the past into the present like those unnamed, wrong doers, in the power structure who are allowed to remain unquoted and nameless in the book, “Power Failure.”

    Enough of being hosed by those who are complicity involved in small and big lies.

    Upstate New York’s air quality is highly polluted with ozone emissions that are making people sick and contributing towards global climate change.

    It is no longer legal in New York State to burn trash in back yard barrels because of benzine pollution. It is outrageous to increase the truck and car emission pollution in our community for a bridge that is not required to be built and to continue bridge authority competitions along the Niagara River.

    How much money is being wasted by not consolidating these four bridge authorities and bringing them under control of voters? The Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority should be abolished when it becomes a dictatorial entity and seeks to harm the people of the United States of America.

    It is better to active as a citizen instead of being a brow beaten victim of corruption. Therefore this citizen fight is going fought and will be won by this neighborhood despite the prejudiced and malevolent twisting of facts by the well known deceivers.

    The heat the Buffalo News and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge is now feeling to their feet is from the torch of Miss Liberty.

    We on the West Side of Buffalo are in solidarity with those in Hong Kong who this week lighted candles for the victims of oppression (twenty years ago) in Tienanmen Square. The chant is, We want democracy! We want democracy! We want democracy.!”

    People across the globe and the West Side want their rights to self determination and object to unelected authority. We will never stop peacefully conducting this fight for justice.

    Freedom and rights does not come freely. To be a true American is to respect the rights and humanity of all people. We either stand for the best principles of liberty and justice or we stand for nothing. Our families and neighbors heath and rights are worth standing up for using every legal and non violent tactic guaranteed to us by the laws of our land.

  • Magilla Schaus

    Edit:

    Big, corporate media such as the Buffalo News cunningly writes the terms of issues in our community and across our country. The facts that Busti Avenue homes are habitable if they were repaired, that housing codes should be enforced, that constructing a new truck plaza on the West Side increases air pollution and respiratory disease, and most importantly that we are governed by a constitution that is designed first and foremost for, by, and of the people and not the corporation or authority. The citizens of this part of the West Side should have the greatest say in any change to our community. Our government is supposed to serve the people and not corrupt government officials or non elected authorities.

    Last weeks, Buffalo News editorial rubber stamped the opinions of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority. The editorial was nothing better than a biased press release. The Buffalo News editorial is another example of the non transparent, subversive and subtle process that has been orchestrated to serve the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority. The self appointed kings of media and authority have revealed on multiple occasions their naked intentions to exploit the truth and the people of the West Side.

    The puppet masters in the Buffalo News are bringing more of the past into the present like those unnamed, wrong doers, in the power structure who are allowed to remain unquoted and nameless in the book, “Power Failure.”

    Enough of being hosed by those who are complicity involved in small and big lies.

    Upstate New York’s air quality is highly polluted with ozone emissions that are making people sick and contributing towards global climate change.

    It is no longer legal in New York State to burn trash in back yard barrels because of benzine pollution. It is outrageous to increase the truck and car emission pollution in our community for a bridge that is not required to be built and to continue bridge authority competitions along the Niagara River.

    How much money is being wasted by not consolidating these four bridge authorities and bringing them under control of voters? The Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority should be abolished when it becomes a dictatorial entity and seeks to harm the people of the United States of America.

    It is better to active as a citizen instead of being a brow beaten victim of corruption. Therefore this citizen fight is going fought and will be won by this neighborhood despite the prejudiced and malevolent twisting of facts by the well known deceivers.

    The heat the Buffalo News and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Peace Bridge is now feeling to their feet is from the torch of Miss Liberty.

    We on the West Side of Buffalo are in solidarity with those in Hong Kong who this week lighted candles for the victims of oppression (twenty years ago) in Tienanmen Square. The chant is, We want democracy! We want democracy! We want democracy.!”

    People across the globe and the West Side want their rights to self determination and object to unelected authority. We will never stop peacefully conducting this fight for justice.

    Freedom and rights does not come freely. To be a true American is to respect the rights and humanity of all people. We either stand for the best principles of liberty and justice or we stand for nothing. Our families and neighbors heath and rights are worth standing up for using every legal and non violent tactic guaranteed to us by the laws of our land.

  • Wes Tonawanda

    Kane/ Ambassador Bridge owns dilapidated code-violating unkempt property bought on Tonawanda Street. The old Tee-to-Green there was torched shortly after Ambassador bought it with a sham front company. Ambassador has a lousy truck plaza neighborhood-polluting proposal that won’t be allowed to overwhelm Black Rock or Bridgeburg either.