BNHV’s first Behind-the-Scenes Tour was this past Saturday and focused on the importance of historic preservation along with an up close and personal look at two of our historic homes, Elliott House and Smith Log House. Guests were invited into the houses and allowed a look upstairs in both structures, something that is usually forbidden to regular museum patrons.
Special guest lecturer, Andrea Rebeck – a registered architect who specializes in historic rehabilitation projects, historic structure reports and condition studies – instructed guests on the social and architectural history of each building as well as tidbits on construction technology and architectural practices.
History of House
The building was constructed in the Village of Williamsville on the corner of what is now Garrison Road and Park Street. In April 1851, George W. Elliott purchased the property from Margaret Evans for $200. Architectural elements indicate that the house was built shortly thereafter.
Mr. Elliott, who was originally from Maine, is listed in the 1850 NYS Census with a wife, Amy N., a son Andrew L. age 15 who was away at school, and two daughters, Sara A., 13 and Mary N., 11. The children were born in Niagara County.
The 1855 Census states that the family had been residents of Erie County for 16 years. Mrs. Elliott was from Chautauqua County. Elliott, age 47, was listed as a “ploughmaker” and a landowner: his wife Amy was 43. The two daughters were still at home, but the son no longer was listed as living with the family. Their dwelling (this house) was valued at $700.
Apparently, Mr. Elliott had difficulties, as evidenced by two Sheriff’s Certificates of Sale (Oct. 4, 1854 and April 18, 1855). He was able to redeem his property from these two auctions, but finally lost it in a foreclosure auction on Sept. 14, 1855 when it was purchased by John Koch and John Blocher.
The house passed through many hands, and had numerous additions built on. It was rarely occupied by its owners but was rented to various tenants.
SMITH LOG HOUSE
History of House
The Smith Log House was originally located at 180 South Ellicott Creek Road in the Town of Amherst, between Sweet Home Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Henry Smith arrived from Germany with his wife, Rosa, six children and his mother-in-law. He settled in the French Settlement part of the Town where many immigrants from Alsace Lorraine had also settled. The Smith family farmed the land around the house from 1838 to 1851 and lived a relatively simple life, judging from their inventory of possessions at Henry’s death at age 44 in 1851. The total value of his estate was $365.
After Rosa’s death in 1867, the Smith children sold the farm and house to their brother, Charles Smith, for $1,250. Two years later, Charles increased the acreage of the farm, leased it to Peter Haller in 1879, and then sold it to two Buffalo residents, Jacob Reiner and Valentine Dechert, who held the property for decades.
The farm was assessed at $4,000 in 1938. Reiner’s widow sold the property and house to Arlene Koelsch, after which time it was rented successively until 1978 when it was purchased by a development company eager to build a residential subdivision. The house was saved from demolition by BNHV.
The Smith Log House is a two story rectangular log house. Log construction was economical and efficient but every effort was made to conceal the fact that a structure was of log construction by use of exterior siding and interior wall finishes and trims.
The difference between log cabin structures and log houses are important – log cabins were less permanent and less finished as it was usually constructed with round rather than hewn, or hand worked, logs, and it was the first generation homestead erected quickly for frontier shelter. A log house denoted a more permanent dwelling, either one or two stories and of more complex design, often built as a second generation dwelling.
Amherst had the largest number of log dwellings in the County – Clarence had half as many and no other town came even close to that. A great many of the log structures in Amherst have been demolished to make way for later development, such as the famous Evans House, the first house to be built in Amherst in 1799, demolished in the 1950s due to decay.