Historic Structures

Ansley Wilcox House (Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site), Buffalo New York

Date added: March 20, 2010 Categories: New York House Greek Revival

The Ansley Wilcox House was originally part of an Army post--Poinsett Barracks--which was established in 1838. After 1883, the interior was remodeled and an earlier frame addition was rebuilt. On September 14, 1901, in the library of the Ansley Wilcox House, Vice-president Theodore Roosevelt took the Oath of Office of the President of the United States. The house was declared a National Historic Site in 1966.

The Poinsett Barracks were constructed immediately following the outbreak of the Patriot's War in 1837, as part of a defense against possible combat with the British Canadians. Poinsett Barracks was named for the Secretary of War under Martin Van Buren, Joel Roberts Poinsett, Poinsett was also Ambassador to Mexico and named the poinsettia plant. In addition to General Winfield Scott, many other famous officers of the Civil War and Mexican-American War served at Poinsett Barracks, Dr, Robert Cooke Wood, son-in-law of Zachary Taylor, became Assistant Surgeon General of the Federal Army. Capt. Samuel Heintzelman was promoted to the rank of Major General during the Civil War and served as chief advisor to Lincoln. Henry J. Hunt was a commander of the Union Artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg. John C. Peinberton, a personal friend of U. S. Grant, joined the Confederate Army. Although he surrendered to Grant at Vicksburg, he received lenient surrender terms. A native of Buffalo, William G. Williamson, topographical engineer, was killed during the Mexican War. The citizens of Buffalo raised money to have his body sent back to Buffalo to be buried in Section A, Forest Lawn Cemetery. John Taylor Wood, son of Dr. Robert Wood, joined the Confederate Army under his uncle Jefferson Davis. Wood's men sank thirty commercial ships in New England, captured two Union gunboats, and sank all the Union ships in Chesapeake Bay. Ansley Wilcox, resident of the house from 1883 until his death in 1930, was a nationally prominent lawyer. From 1883-85, Wilcox was counsel for the commission appointed by Gov. Grover Cleveland to acquire land for the New York State Reservation at Niagara Falls. Wilcox was a member of the Reservation Commission from 1910 to 1917. With his involvement in the case of Rogers versus the City of Buffalo, Wilcox established the constitutionality of the Civil Service Law. In the case of Briggs versus Spaulding, which he took to the Supreme Court, Wilcox established the liability for negligence of directors of national banks. Wilcox is credited with developing the idea of holding city and county elections in odd-numbered years, and state elections in even-numbered years. This proposal, aimed at freeing municipal governments from politics, was adopted at the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1894. Wilcox himself thought this his greatest single achievement. As professor of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Buffalo, 1885-1906, Wilcox became known for his speciality. In 1913-14, he was one of the commissioners to examine public health laws of New York State. As a close personal friend of Grover Cleveland, Wilcox was one of the original "Mugwumps" who refused to support the Republican Presidential candidacy of James G. Blaine. Wilcox was most active in many national and Buffalo civic organizations including the Buffalo Charity Organization Society, Buffalo Civil Service Reform Association, and the National Municipal League. He was also a socially prominent member of the Buffalo Athletic Club, the Saturn Club, and other Buffalo and New York City social and golf clubs.

Famous visitors to the Poinsett Barracks and Wilcox residence included Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Miliard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, the Ansley Wilcox House is nationally important as the site of the Inauguration of the twenty-sixth President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. President William McKinley had been assassinated while addressing the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The Oath of Office was administered to Roosevelt, standing in front of the bay window, by Judge John R. Hazel of the United States District Court, 3:32 p.m., September 14, 1901.

Land purchased by Ebenezer Walden, June 5, 1837, for $47,500, was leased to the U. S. Government for the establishment of a military post to be used for the defense of the Niagara Frontier. The Poinsett Barracks or Buffalo Barracks were built in 1838. The lease was terminated by the government in 1845, following a move to Fort Porter.

September 22, 1847, E. Walden sold a portion of "Walden Hill" to Joseph G. Hasten, Mayor of Buffalo and Judge of the Superior Court, This portion included the Ansley Wilcox House. Cost: $3,500. Buffalo Land Records, Deeds, Book 122, p. 625.

June 23, 1857. Joseph G. Hasten sold the property to Oliver Lee and Company, Bank of Buffalo for $32,500.

April 4, 1859. Oliver Lee Bank was sold at public auction and went into receivership. As a result of the receiver's sale, Gilbert L. Wilson, treasurer of the New York Central Railroad Company, a large depositor of the Oliver Lee Bank, purchased the property on April 9, for $26,598.37.

Hay 1, 1863. The New York Central Railroad sold the property to Albert P. Laning, New York State Assemblyman and State Senator. Buffalo Land Records, Deeds, Book 259, p. 238.

1881 The widow and daughter of Albert P. Laning sold the property to Frederick Bell, a wealthy businessman from Rochester, for $37,581.

November 17, 1883. Frederick Bell sold the property to Alfred Bell, a lumberman from Rochester. The relationship between the two Bells has not been determined. After holding the land for ten days, Bell sold the property to Dexter P. Rumsey, the owner of large parcels of real estate in north Buffalo and on Grand Island. Buffalo Land Records, Deeds, Book 463, p. 62. During this same year, Rumsey gave the house to his daughter, Mrs. Ansley Wilcox, for her lifetime use. Upon her death in 1933, the house reverted to the Rumsey estate.

1938 Oliver and Kathryn Lawrence moved into the house as tenants of the Rumsey estate.

1939 The house was opened as the Kathryn Lawrence Tea Room. When a liquor license was obtained, the name was changed to the Kathryn Lawrence Restaurant.

October 1, 1947. Oliver and Kathryn Lawrence purchased the property from the Rumsey estate for $62,000.

April 23, 1957. The Lawrences transferred this holding to a corporation, 641 Delaware Avenue, Lawrence was president of the domestic corporation.

1959 Liberty National Bank leased a portion of the property on which the branch bank now stands.

1960 Three thirty-three-year leases were given to Nathan Benderson, president of Benderson Development Corporation. The agreement at $1,500 per month, allowed the leaser the right to demolish the house at will with consent of the owner. Benderson intended to raze the house in order to build a parking lot,

1963 As a result o£ Benderson's announcement that he would raze the Wilcox House unless it was proclaimed a National Historic Site within thirty days, the ninety-nine year lease was returned to Oliver Lawrence for $15,000. On November 22, 1963, the Liberty National Bank Corporation purchased the property for $150,000.

May 23, 1969. The United States Government purchased the property for $250,000.