AK Historypin of the Week
Wilcox Mansion, Delaware Avenue

The Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) held an exhibition of photography in January 1940, which commemorated Buffalo’s vast architectural triumphs. Participants using the Historypin website and mobile app on supported devices can explore photographs and related content about numerous historic sites and buildings featured in the AAG’s 1940 exhibition. Every week, we will feature a pinned location from the Albright-Knox’s Historypin channel and provide detailed information and archival photographs about the site. This week’s pin is the Wilcox Mansion, located on Delaware Avenue.

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The building that now sits at 641 Delaware Avenue has changed greatly from the time of its original construction. The first thing built on the site was two family residences for officers in the temporary United States military barracks in the 1830s. The Buffalo or Poinsett Barracks, which extended from Main Street to Delaware Avenue and from North Street to Allen Street, were named after Joel Poinsett, the United States Secretary of War from 1837 to 1841. They were designed and constructed by the U.S. Army Engineers, under the direction of General Winfield Scott (1786–1866). The Buffalo or Poinsett Barracks were the largest U.S. military installation in the country at the time of construction.

In 1845, the Buffalo Barracks were moved to Fort Porter and the building was abandoned until 1847, when it was purchased by Joseph Masten (1809–1871), a former Mayor of Buffalo (serving 1843–1844 and 1845–1846) and a former judge of the Superior Court. The building was remodeled by Thomas Tilden (also known as George Thomas Tilden, 1845–1919) in 1863 and converted into a single family home. Masten had Tilden build the portico adorned with Doric columns on Delaware Avenue, making it the main entrance to the building. 

In 1883, Dexter Rumsey (1827–1906) purchased the house as a wedding present for his daughter, Mary Grace, and her husband, Ansley Wilcox (1856–1930). Ansley Wilcox was a lawyer and a civil service reform commissioner. Wilcox was also a founder of the Charity Organization Society and the Fitch Creche, the first day center for working mothers in the United States. Many of these reform groups met regularly at the Wilcox Mansion.

Ansley Wilcox made many improvements to the interior and exterior appearance of the house. In the 1890s, he built a large addition to the back that doubled the size of the residence. Around 1901, he enlisted the assistance of Buffalo architect George Cary (1859–1945) to rebuild the addition and remodel the interior. The addition consisted of a Gothic Revival morning room and a classical dining room, which contained intricate Georgian Revival woodwork details. During Ansley’s ownership of the property, the estate was visited by many prominent individuals, including President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State Philander Knox.

In 1901, the mansion became a monument of national importance due a horrible tragedy. After the shooting of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition on September 6, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Buffalo to be present in the event that the wound was fatal. Since Roosevelt was a close friend of Wilcox, he stayed at the Wilcox Mansion during this time. When President McKinley died on September 14, 1901, Roosevelt took the oath of office in the library of the Wilcox Mansion at 3:30 pm to become the twenty-sixth president of the United States.

In 1966, the house—which is the best remaining example of the Greek Revival style in Buffalo—was named a National Historic Site. The building is currently a museum, operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Inc., on behalf of the National Park Service and the United States Department of the Interior. The library in which Roosevelt was sworn into office has been remodeled back to its appearance at the time of that momentous event.
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TOP: Image courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Digital Assets Collection and Archives, Buffalo, New York. © 2014 Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Photograph by Jay W. Baxtresser, Albright Art Gallery staff.
BOTTOM: Screenshot of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s channel on Historypin.

We’re celebrating Inauguration Day with a look back at the U.S. Presidents and First Families who have visited, or been affiliated with, the Gallery over the years.

Millard Fillmore, who lived in Buffalo for much of his life, was the first to sign the articles of incorporation of The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy (the Gallery’s governing body) on December 4, 1862. He is buried at nearby Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Ruth Cleveland attended the dedication ceremony of the Albright Building in 1905; Lady Bird Johnson visited in 1965; Julie Nixon, David Eisenhower, and Trisha Nixon visited in 1968; and Hillary Clinton visited in 2004.

While William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt weren’t directly affiliated with the Gallery, McKinley was assassinated just blocks away during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, while the Albright Building was being constructed, and Roosevelt took the oath of office down the street at the Wilcox Mansion.