Friday, September 22, 2017

Buffalo's Historic Branch Libraries

In our last blog post we looked at the career of Isaac Perry, one of New York State's most important architects and the designer of everybody's favorite armory on Connecticut Street. Isaac Perry's buildings can be related back to important historical trends and movements. America's fear of anarchism and revolt among working class peoples encouraged the construction of the armories, and a desire to treat the mentally ill led to the construction of asylums like the St. Lawrence State Hospital.

In this week's blog we'll be focusing on a local historical building campaign undertaken by the Buffalo Public Library between 1901 and 1928. Between these years the public library created fourteen branch libraries in the city of which eight still exist. These branch libraries were critical to the Buffalo Public Library as they allowed residents in outlying neighborhoods access to library services and reduced pressure on the Central Library. Many of the libraries built during this period are still standing and a few remain active libraries. Before getting into the history of Buffalo's branch libraries it's important to take a brief look at the history of Buffalo's library system starting in 1836 when the Young Men's Association formed the Library.

The Young Men's Association was a collection of wealthy young businessmen and entrepreneurs with a similar spirit and affinity towards boosterism. The association was particularly concerned with Buffalo's meager literary scene. The organization's first act was to form a library subscription service. For fifty dollars a year members of the Young Men's Association could access the Buffalo Library's collection of 2,700 books.

The Young Men's Association controlled the Buffalo Library from 1836 until 1897, a period of sixty-one years. During this period the Association grew the library's collection to 84,000 pieces of literature and built the majestic Central Library in downtown. Despite its expanded collection, the Buffalo Library only had 2,900 subscribers by 1897. This amounted to around 1% of Buffalo's population in 1897. The Buffalo Library's reach was limited because the fifty dollar subscription fee remained prohibitive for all but the wealthiest and most literally inclined individuals. Further, the Central Library's location in downtown meant that residents on the East Side, in South Buffalo, and in certain parts of the West Side faced a long walk or trolley ride to the library. For many people the distance proved prohibitive.

By 1897 the Buffalo Library's low subscription base became untenable. The library's budget was $5,000 a year, nowhere near enough to pay for building maintenance and book purchases. Facing a slide into irrelevance the Buffalo Library made a deal with the city to transform the Buffalo Library into a tax supported public library service.

The Buffalo Public Library officially opened in September of 1897 and throngs of people soon inundated the Central Library on a daily basis. Almost from its inception, the library's Board of Managers recognized the need for branch libraries. In 1899 the library’s superintendent H. L. Elmendorf argued,


In other large cities a great proportion of the circulation is done through small libraries, located at convenient places in different parts of the city. If we had such collections of books, with commodious, well-stocked reading rooms – say, one in Black Rock, one in Cold Spring and two or three on the East side, each in charge of regular library assistants – we could, I think, double our usefulness.1 

The Buffalo Public Library set about erecting branch libraries soon after Elmendorf's proclamation. The first branch library, the William Ives Branch at 746 Broadway, was opened in 1901. Within two years the J.P Dudley Branch Library at 503 South Park Avenue and the Lafayette Branch Library inside the Lafayette High School had opened. These early branch libraries all occupied rented rooms inside commercial buildings or fraternal halls. Because of this, none of the libraries were considered up to the Buffalo Public Library's standards. The libraries were small and like the Central Library, became easily overcrowded, especially after school.  

Throughout the 1910s the Buffalo Public Library lobbied Common Council for the funds to build branch libraries. One particular focus of the public library was the former Buffalo Waterworks Building at 1936 Niagara Street. Almost from the public library's inception an agreement had been in place to allow the Buffalo Public Library to turn the waterworks building into a branch library. However Common Council continually frustrated the library's leadership, refusing to release the vital funds necessary to renovate the waterworks. Finally in 1915 the funds were released and the Jubilee Branch Library was opened.

The new library possessed two important features repeated in all future branch libraries. First, the building had a basement auditorium open to public organizations. Additionally, on the first floor the library was divided so that adults and children had separate reading rooms. The division of space between adult readers and children was considered important to the function of the branch library and future branches partitioned adult and child spaces, often employing two wings with a central librarian’s desk to do so. After the construction of the Jubilee Branch Library, branch library constriction stopped in Buffalo for nine years, though the Buffalo Public Library continued lobbying for funds. 

In 1923 the library received its much needed funds in the form of a $200,000 grant from Common Council. With the exception of the Jubilee Branch Library, all Buffalo's early branch libraries were built with money from this grant. The first libraries, the Cazenovia, Kensington, and Fairfield Branches were built in 1924. These were followed in 1927 by the Genesee Branch Library and in 1928 by the North Park Branch Library. Howard L. Beck, Buffalo's city architect, designed each building and employed popular revival styles such as Colonial, Tudor, and Renaissance Revival in his designs.


By 1930 Buffalo had fourteen branch libraries scattered throughout the city. The libraries circulated an average of 80,000 books a year and helped reduce overcrowding at the Central Library. More importantly however they gave children and adults in Buffalo access to literature and entertainment. A number of the city's branch libraries were placed in large immigrant communities where English was a second language. The branch libraries became a crucial meeting place for children and adults from Buffalo's different immigrant communities. The branches had foreign language books and newspapers catered to the demographic they served and librarians were attentive to the needs of small children as they attempted to learn English. 

Surprisingly the branch libraries erected between 1923 and 1928 are all still standing, though with the exception of the Cazenovia Branch Library, none of the branches are still active. The spaces inside these libraries have thankfully however been used since each library has closed and at least one is in the process of being rehabilitated. Though some branches sit empty, those that have been maintained, such as the Kensington Branch Library continue to provide tangible benefits to the community. One can only hope that the rest of the branches are brought back to life and put to use in the city.

Map of the Buffalo Public Library System in 1930
The Buffalo Public Library, Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Buffalo Public Library: 1930, (Buffalo: 1930), 26.    





[1] The Buffalo Public Library, Third Annual Report of the Buffalo Public Library: 1899 (Buffalo: 1900), 19.













Thursday, May 25, 2017

Architect Spotlight: Isaac Perry

by Matthew Shoen
Associate Architectural Historian


Isaac Perry from findagrave.com

New York State is dotted with buildings and cities designed brilliant architects. Buffalo owes much of its shape to landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, and much of its iconic skyline to H.H. Richardson, Alfred T. Fellheimer, and Frank Lloyd Wright. These nationally known architects are always present in our minds, and tourists coming to Buffalo make sure to visit their buildings. There is however another architect whose works are important not only to Buffalo but to the entire state of New York. That architect will be the subject of our latest blog. Today we'll be profiling Isaac Perry.

Isaac Perry was born in Vermont in 1822, but grew up in Keeseville in the Adirondack Mountains. Perry worked in the mountains with his father Seneca Perry as a carpenter and mason. Perry and his father worked throughout Clinton and Essex Counties for at least a decade, building homes and hotels in the small mountain towns that dotted the landscape. In 1852 Perry left the Adirondacks and moved south, establishing himself in Binghamton where he interned under the architect Thomas R. Jackson, a former protege of Richard Upjohn.

While in Binghamton, Perry got a breakthrough contract when, in 1856, he was selected to design the New York State Inebriate Asylum, the first alcohol treatment center ever built. The Inebriate Asylum occupied Perry until 1866, but the scale of the project made him a highly sought architect in Binghamton where he built a number of religious, commercial, and residential buildings, including the Phelps Mansion a beautiful three-story brick and stone mansion with a steep mansard roof.

The Binghamton Inebriate Asylum from wikipedia.com
Perry's success in Binghamton was a decisive factor in his appointment as Commissioner of the New Capitol in Albany, a project to rebuilt New York's Capitol Building into a larger and more grandiose structure. The Capitol Building was constructed under the oversight of three teams of architects, the first led by Thomas Fuller between 1867-1875, the second by Leopold Eidlitz and H.H. Richardson between 1875-1883 and the final team by Isaac Perry between 1883-1899. Perry's creative input saved the project, which was decades behind schedule. While initially tasked with overseeing the work begun by his predecessors, Perry reworked their designs and shaped the capital building into its present form. His most notable contribution, came in the creation of the Eastern Approach, the monumental exterior staircase that leads up to the Capitol Building's entrance.

Monumental scale defines many of Isaac Perry's most memorable projects. While the Capitol Building was being constructed, Perry also built forty armories throughout the state, including the massive Connecticut Street Armory in Buffalo, the Ogdensburg Armory, Niagara Falls Armory, and the Oswego Armory among many others. Perry also worked on the state's asylum system, building the St. Lawrence Asylum in Ogdensburg, and the Matteawan Asylum for Insane Criminals near Fishkill. 

In 1895 New York created the position of State Architect, a position Perry inherited since he'd been the lead architect on every major state building project for the preceding twenty years. Perry retired soon after getting his position however due to his advancing age. He returned to Binghamton where he died in 1904 at the age of 82. 

The monumental works of Isaac Perry, coupled with his position as the State Architect, means that almost every significant community in New York State is tied to Isaac Perry in some way. His architecture, though not stunningly original like his contemporary H.H. Richardson, is extremely beautiful and his perchance for the monumental make visiting his buildings an awesome experience (with an emphasis on the awe). Perry's buildings, particularly in smaller communities, are sources of pride and represent a level of grandeur not often seen due to financial restrictions. With his emphasis on turrets, towers, and beautiful stone arches, Perry captured our collective desire for powerful architecture and brought it to life throughout New York State.


The Administration Building of the Ogdensburg State Hospital from Opacity.com

The Ogdensburg Armory from Flickr.com





Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Neighborhood Destruction

Matthew Shoen
Associate Architectural Historian 
May 24, 2017

A few weeks ago Preservation Studios, along with the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force, came together to discuss the history of the Fruit Belt neighborhood. This old residential part of the city has been settled since the 1840s and was an important part of the Great German East Side, Buffalo's second major ethnic neighborhood (Following the Irish Old First Ward). The Fruit Belt was improved in the 1870s with the completion of the Parade and the Humboldt Parkway. These beautifully landscaped spaces were created by Frederic Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux two of America's premier landscape architects. The presence of such nice amenities and the Fruit Belt's proximity to work opportunities in the East Side or Downtown Buffalo helped Germans living in the Fruit Belt resist the call of the suburbs that swept through the rest of the city. Unfortunately, Urban Renewal programs instituted by the city caused significant harm to the Fruit Belt and its residents. Like our last piece, this blog will be heavy on photography. The destruction of the Fruit Belt was well documented as a sign of progress for the city, despite the fact that this progress came at the cost of homes, businesses, thousands of residents, and the much beloved Humboldt Parkway. 

The destruction of the Fruit Belt affected the German residents who were the area's historic population, however it had a more dramatic impact on African Americans who moved into the neighborhood after they were forcibly evicted from their homes during the destruction of the Ellicott District in the early 1950s.1 Thousands of African Americans were rendered homeless by Urban Renewal that demolished their homes in the Ellicott District and replaced the buildings with low income housing projects. With no other option, African Americans sought out housing in neighborhoods like Hamlin Park, Masten Park, and the Fruit Belt. Here they were greeted by predatory landlords and the city's attempt to modernize itself and make downtown more accessible, the Kensington Expressway. 

People have written at length about the Kensington Expressway and the catastrophic impact it had on Buffalo's East Side. Organizations like the Restore Our Community Coalition (http://roccbuffalo.org/) have done a fantastic job documenting the destruction of Humboldt Parkway, but I want to draw your attention south to the Fruit Belt where much of the residential destruction necessary to build the Kensington Expressway occurred. 

Property destruction between Rose and Mulberry Streets.
From Fultonhistory.com

To build the Kensington Expressway, over 500 buildings were destroyed, many of which were demolished in a 1.8 mile section of Buffalo between Michigan Avenue and Utica Street. The majority of the buildings destroyed were homes, however German saloons, brick factories, and a sheet metal factory were also destroyed, depriving the neighborhood of local industry, commerce, and recreation. 

The Kensington Expressway was announced in 1954 and work on the expressway began in 1957. In those three years properties around Cherry Street deteriorated as owners stopped investing in their upkeep, knowing the buildings were doomed. Rats also began to multiply in abandoned buildings, and became a prevalent issue in the community. 

The Kensington Expressway encouraged Germans to leave the Fruit Belt and became a major eyesore for the African Americans who moved into the newly vacated homes of the Fruit Belt's German residents. The expressway soon became more than an aesthetic issue. After its completion, the Kensington Expressway became a moat separating the Fruit Belt from the East Side, and the East Side from the rest of Buffalo. 

During its construction however the expressway was a morass of construction equipment, mud, and closed streets. Residents who drove to work were never sure if their streets would be open when they came back or if construction equipment had ripped up the road surface. Parents had to be vigilant with small children around the construction site and at least one man died (from cardiac arrest) after he fell down the banks of the expressway construction site. The mud, noise, and traffic issues made the Kensington Expressway one of of the worst aspects of living in the Fruit Belt in the 1950s and the expressway has continued to be an eyesore and a major health hazard. 

The destruction of so many beautiful buildings in the Fruit Belt was seen as progress for the city of Buffalo. The loss was viewed as necessary, a step forward by a community trying to remain vibrant in the modern world. We should take the Kensington Expressway as a warning from the past, and never engage in destructive programs like this ever again. Collectively we need to lay a critical eye across all projects that ask us to demolish the buildings that give our city character. While the Fruit Belt continues to be an active neighborhood, there is no way to ignore the Expressway's presence and the ghosts of all the properties and families who were pushed out to build it. 

Inspector at the temporary bridge across Lemon Street.
Fultonhistory.com


Early work on the Kensington Expressway's below grade sections near the Fruit Belt.
Fultonhistory.com



























1. The destruction of the Ellicott District will be covered further in future blog posts. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Artist Spotlight: Harry James Horwood

By Matthew Shoen 
Associate Architectural Historian 

Occasionally we've taken time to blog about the architects we've encountered in our research. Today I want to change things up a little and discuss briefly discuss a stained glass artist whose works form a critical component of our next nomination. Today's blog is about Harry James Horwood a resident of Ogdensburg, New York, who along with his father Harry Horwood, was one of the most accomplished stained glass artists in the United States during the early twentieth century. (For clarity Harry James Horwood will always be addressed by his full name)

From the First Baptist Church of Ogdensburg
Photos taken by David Martin of the Horwood Stained Glass Museum

Harry James Horwood was born in England in 1864 though he soon moved to Prescott, Ontario Canada where his father had set up a stained glass studio. During the 1870s and 1880s Ottawa was experiencing a massive construction boom. Large churches and government buildings were built during this period and Harry Horwood took advantage of the construction boom and earned multiple contracts installing windows in buildings like Ottawa's Parliament Building, Ottawa's Carnegie Library, and Notre Dame Cathedral.

In 1880 Harry Horwood opened a branch studio in Ogdensburg, New York. Ogdensburg is just across the St. Lawrence River from Prescott and Harry Horwood's artistry had attracted the city's attention. In 1880, city leaders commissioned Horwood to install stained glass windows in the Ogdensburg Opera House. The massive circular rose colored window Horwood created was widely considered the opera house's most beautiful element, though it was sadly lost in 1926 due to a fire. 
 
The Ogdensburg Opera House after the fire.
The space occupied by Harry Horwood's rose window is clearly visible.
From Julie Madlin's Ogdensburg History Blog. http://ogdensburghistory.blogspot.com/


The Ogdensburg Opera House's rose colored window made the Horwood name universally known in Upstate New York and numerous orders for stained glass windows came to Harry Horwood's Ogdensburg studio from area churches. Horwood remained active in Upstate New York until 1917 when he died. After Harry Horwood died, Harry James Horwood took over the Ogdensburg studio and continued providing beautiful stained glass windows to the residents of Upstate New York. 

While his father was better known, Harry James Horwood was arguably more important to Upstate New York. After taking over his father's business Harry James Horwood moved the business to a different part of the Ogdensburg. After completing the move, Harry James Horwood began taking orders from churches and private individuals from around the region. His work displayed a high level of artistry, but crucially his windows were inexpensive. Harry James Horwood retailed some of his windows for as little as thirty-five dollars and churches eagerly bought them. 

One church that patronized Horwood repeatedly was the First Baptist Church in Ogdensburg. This church contains eleven Horwood stained glass windows, eight of which are visible and in beautiful condition. The windows were installed between 1931 and 1944 and memorialize various church members and former pastors. The windows display scenes from the bible such as the Last Supper, the Resurrection, and the Coming of the Three Wise Men. Additionally, the church had a special relationship with Harry James Horwood, as he was the church's choirmaster.

These stained glass windows and the many hundreds made by Harry James Horwood and his father Harry Horwood beautify churches across New York and Canada. The beauty of these windows make visits to any of the churches in Upstate New York a treat and an excellent reason to stop by and go inside. So if you're every traveling to Ottawa, take 81 north and stop by some of the churches in Ogdensburg or the other local communities and ask to see the stained glass artistry of Harry James Horwood. 


Christ the Good Shepard from the First Baptist Church of Ogdensburg
Photo by David Martin
The Last Supper from the First Baptist Church
Photo by David Martin

The transom above the First Baptist Church's front door is Harry James Horwood's simplest piece of art in the church.
Photo by David Martin

















Monday, April 10, 2017

Live and Outdoors its NHL Hockey!!

Well.... Last night was certainly depressing. After tying the game late it looked like the Sabres MIGHT give us a few more minutes of hockey to enjoy as we try to forget this season of misery. Instead, Tampa scored with a minute twenty-four to go and added an empty netter to salt the wounds. 

The Sabres managed to somehow do worse this year than they did last year and expectations were pretty brutally dashed by the way March and April played out. Still, there is always next year, and 2018 offers Sabres fans something especially fantastic in the form of a second Winter Classic game, this time against the New York Rangers. 

The first Winter Classic was a major spectacle and came as the Sabres were performing like the most dominant team in the NHL. Buffalo was flying high with players like Danny Briere, Chris Drury, and Ryan Miller and collectively we were all sensing the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately the President's Trophy winning season would be Buffalo's last taste of playoff glory and the team has struggled mightily in the last decade to gain any sort of traction. 

Regardless of how the Sabres do next season I'm excited for another Winter Classic game. The prospect of Buffalo playing in another Winter Classic got me interested in the history of outdoor hockey and I did a little research to find out a bit more on the history of outdoor hockey games. 

Originally hockey was played outdoors as there was no way to cool ice inside a building. Games were played on rivers, lakes, or in my case in a swamp by the train tracks. In 1875 the first indoor hockey game was held in Montreal at the Victoria Skating Rink. The game was a novelty act, more of an exhibition of the ice freezing technology. The game's announcement in the newspapers is particularly memorable. It reads:

A game of Hockey will be played at the Victoria Skating Rink this evening, between two nines chosen from among the members. Good fun may be expected, as some of the players are reputed to be exceedingly expert at the game. Some fears have been expressed on the part of intending spectators that accidents were likely to occur through the ball flying about in too lively a manner, to the imminent danger of lookers on, but we understand that the game will be played with a flat circular piece of wood, thus preventing all danger of its leaving the surface of the ice. Subscribers will be admitted on presentation of their tickets. 

Painting of the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Right away I have to wonder which hurts more a wooden puck or a rubber puck? Obviously a Shea Weber shot is going to make any wood puck disintegrate into splinters, but even if the puck wasn't atomized by a one-timer how bad would a wooden puck to the leg feel? 

Following the first exhibition at the Victoria Skating Rink indoor hockey grew in popularity until it was the most common method of playing the game. Outdoor hockey made a revival in 1924 at the Olympic Games in Chamonix, France where the Canadians unsurprisingly dominated the competition. Surprisingly, while America took the silver it was Great Britain that won the bronze medal beating Sweden of all countries. Even stranger the 1936 Winter Olympics saw the British take gold in hockey. 

The next major outdoor hockey game directly involved the NHL and occurred between 1953 and 1954. Late in 1953 Jack Adams, coach of the Detroit Red Wings, took some of his players into Michigan's Upper Peninsula on a goodwill tour. One of the stops the Wings made was at the Marquette Branch Prison. Dubbed the Alcatraz of the North, Marquette was an isolated and harsh prison, reserved for Michigan's most dangerous criminals. During the visit Emery Jaques the prison warden propositioned Jack Adams, asking if the coach would bring the Red Wings north to play an exhibition game at the prison. Initially Adams scoffed and told Jaques that if he could foot the bill for air-fare and accommodations that the Wings would come. To his surprise the warden came up with the money and on February 2nd, 1954 the Detroit Red Wings lined up against the Marquette Prison Pirates. 

With legends like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuk playing the their prime the Wings quickly ran away with the game, establishing an 18-0 lead at the end of the first period. After that, several Red Wings, including Sawchuk were traded to the Pirates and an inmate centered the line of Howe and Lindsay. For the rest of the game nobody kept score and the players had fun with each other. Many of the prisoners were awed by the Red Wings as they'd only ever listened to the radio announcers describe the players and their abilities. To see them in the flesh was a spectacle most of the inmates likely carried until their deaths. 

Hopefully in 2018 fans of Buffalo Sabres hockey can see something spectacular when the Sabres play the Rangers. Hopefully the team has a breakthrough and makes the playoffs next year. Regardless of how things play out, the Sabres are certain to put on a show when hockey goes outdoors and the puck drops in New York City. 

The Red Wings at Marquette. Image from NHL.com
 











Thursday, March 30, 2017

Architect Spotlight: Charles Day Swan

Charles Day Swan taken from http://buffaloah.com/a/plymouth/cb/129.pdf
Its been awhile since our last Architect Spotlight post and I felt now was a good time to dive back in and look at another one of Buffalo's unheralded architects. This time we'll be focusing on Charles Day Swan

Architect Charles Day Swan was born in Buffalo in 1855 the son of ship captain Augustus Swan. Swan lived at 290 Jersey Street near Allentown and from this residence he commuted to the office of architect Richard Waite. Between 1873 and 1881 Swan worked as a draftsman for Waite, following the traditional path of most architects in the nineteenth century.
















The Zink Block

After leaving Waite's office Swan enjoyed a long and successful career, contributing a number of beautiful buildings to Buffalo, several of which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Swan primarily built private homes, but he also was responsible for building the Zink Block on Connecticut Street and Public School 24 near Martin Luther King Park. These two buildings represent Swan's most impressive extant contributions to the architecture of Buffalo. The Zink Block is a beautiful Renaissance Revival commercial building composed of sandstone and brick and highlighted by a series of arched windows that give the building a really unique look. Public School 24 is a bit less showy than the Zink Block, however certain features are carried over from the Zink Block such as the heavy sandstone windowsills and projecting brick columns that divide the window bays. Like the Zink Block, Public School 24 was executed in the Renaissance  Revival Style. The application of this architectural style to an educational building makes School 24 one of the more interesting historic school buildings in Buffalo.


While the Zink Block and Public School 24 remain two of Swan's most attractive extant buildings his finest building was likely the United Presbyterian Church at the corner of Richmond and Summer Streets. Built in 1889 the beautiful church has sadly been demolished. The lot has since been repurposed as a senior citizen home.

Taken from Buffaloah.com


Charles Day Swan was most active in the 1880s and 1890s and saw is career taper off after 1900. In 1911 Swan moved to Cambridge Massachusetts with his family where he died in 1914 at the age of fifty-nine.


                                                 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Case for a Museum Dedicated to Francis Folsom




A couple weeks ago one of my friends from Washington D.C. came up to visit and tour Buffalo. On the last day of his visit we were on our way to Founding Fathers when we passed the house where First Lady Francis Folsom grew up. Like me, he's a history buff so we stopped to read the plaque outside the house at which point he remarked that cities like Buffalo needed more museums, little educational centers capable of highlighting the connections our towns and cities have to the broad tapestry of American history. I gave his words some thought as we walked around the rest of Allentown and my mind was continually drawn back to Francis Folsom who I see as one of our more interesting and significant First Ladies our country has ever had. In the annals of American presidential history she is wholly unique. She is the youngest woman to become First Lady doing so at 21(For comparison Jackie Kennedy was 31 and Michelle Obama 45 when they became First Lady). She is also the only woman to be married in the White House, as well as the only woman to give birth while First Lady. However, all these facts, while interesting, amount to little more than trivia. Francis Folsom's significance lies in her portrayal through the newspapers. She was a sensational figure whose actions were heavily scrutinized and whose image was monetized by fashion magazines and hundreds of other strange outlets such as playing cards and smoking pipes. In many ways Francis Folsom was the first celebrity First Lady, a woman whose actions carried intrigue and whose persona captivated much of America.

Francis Folsom was born on July 24th 1864 to Oscar and Emma Folsom. Oscar Folsom was a lawyer partnered with New Jersey born Grover Cleveland. Oscar Folsom was also a wild man who enjoyed racing his carriage, a hobby that cost him his life in 1873 when he crashed his carriage just before Francis's 11th birthday. Despite the loss of her father, Francis Folsom was well cared for by her mother's family and by Grover Cleveland who acted as a guardian for the young woman. In 1882 Cleveland helped Francis attend Wells College one of the first colleges for women in New York State. At Wells she took courses in an eclectic mix of the humanities and corresponded with Cleveland who was climbing the political ladder, moving from Mayor of Buffalo to Governor of New York with an eye on the presidency. In the 1884 election Grover Cleveland narrowly defeated James G. Blaine and by spring of 1885, the same year she graduated from Wells College, Cleveland asked Francis Folsom to marry him.

Cleveland was a private man who didn't want his young bride to be hounded by the newspapers and took precautions in order to keep the press away from Francis as she toured Europe and prepared for married life. The intrigue surrounding Cleveland and his bachelorhood was fodder for the tabloids and many suspected he intended to marry Francis's mother Emma. Thus, when it was revealed that Cleveland would marry Francis, a woman twenty years his junior the press went into a frenzy and she became an instant celebrity. This was only exacerbated by the private nature of the Cleveland-Folsom wedding which featured the couple's immediate family, a few friends, and members of Cleveland's cabinet to whom he hand wrote the invitations. The wedding was so anticipated that when it was announced that Francis and Grover Cleveland were officially wed the entire city of Washington D.C. erupted in a cacophony of church bells, ship horns, and cheers as people celebrated the marriage.

Because of her age, attractiveness, and improvements to camera technology, Francis Folsom became the most visibly recognizable First Lady ever. Women copied her style, and as a young woman she broke significantly from past styles of dress, exposing her shoulders and arms in photographs. With so many women paying attention to Francis Folsom her image became an incredible marketing tool and advertisers used her image to sell sewing machines, medicines, and eventually her husband attempt at reelection in 1888 a move that sparked the Republican party to use Caroline Harrison's image in their advertisements.

Taken from the National First Ladies Library



Poster Featuring President Cleveland and Francis Folsom prior to the Election of 1888 which Cleveland lost. Taken from the Washington Post.

Though Grover Cleveland lost the election of 1888 he and Francis Folsom were back in the White House following the 1892 presidential election. By this point Francis Folsom had given birth to two of the family's children and a third would be born in the White House making the children instant celebrities like their mother. Many speculate that the Baby Ruth candy bar was named after Folsom's first daughter Ruth. 

While Francis Folsom did not push the boundaries of a First Lady's role in society in the way we associate with modern First Ladies like Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, or Michelle Obama, her presence in the public eye and the obsessive coverage of her actions can be seen as a preview to the modern life of our First Ladies. Her use in the 1888 presidential election also marked a major shift in political gamesmanship as the wives of presidential candidates had never been scrutinized before. She was instrumental to transforming Grover Cleveland's image from that of a coarse Buffalo politician to that of a loving and gentle father.  

Outside of her role as First Lady, Francis Folsom was a strong proponent of women's education, though she was an anti-suffragette. She became a trustee of her alma mater Wells College and worked to give female artists, particularly female musicians opportunities that had historically been denied to them. Later in her life Francis Folsom became the president of the Needleworking Guild and became active in university life at Princeton. She died in October 1947, 51 years after first entering the White House as a young woman. 

Whenever I walk by the Francis Folsom House I'm struck by how interesting yet overlooked the life of Francis Folsom is today. Folsom broke down so many barrier and changed so much about the role of First Lady that I feel like she deserves a museum. Her life in the White House offers a great deal of insight into the culture of journalism and celebrity that existed in the 1880s, as well as the evolution of the role of First Lady. As one of our most unique First Ladies Francis Folsom is a great treasure to Buffalo and deserves greater recognition from the city. Hopefully one day we can walk by her childhood home and take a tour of her life, legacy, and the artifacts and objects produced using her image.