Architecture along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail
From Rhineland castles and French forts, grand residences of the gilded era to masterpieces by iconic American architects and landscape architects, discover over 285 years of architectural history along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
GRAND RESIDENCES OF THE GILDED ERA
The prosperity of late 19th and early 20th century businessmen was prominently expressed in the scale, style and location of their homes. A short drive through any of the historic neighborhoods and villages along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail will take you past the pride of successful corporate founders, real estate developers, sea captains, lawyers and farmers.
George Eastman House and Gardens – Rochester, NY (1902-1905)
This private urban estate was built for George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. From 1917 – 1919, the building and grounds underwent significant enlargement and the addition of beautiful gardens. After Eastman’s death in 1932, the structures fell into disrepair, but are now fully restored and open to the public as the George Eastman House Museum of International Photography. Incidentally, the Eastman family homestead in Waterville, NY where the young inventor was born was moved to the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, NY.
Richardson-Bates House Museum – Oswego, NY (1867-1880)
An excellent example of Tuscan Villa Victorian architecture, this served as the home of Maxwell Richardson, lawyer, real estate businessman and mayor of Oswego. Today its first floor appears as the Richardson’s knew it, containing 95% of its original furnishings, while the second floor serves to preserve local history.
Boldt Castle – Alexandria Bay, NY (1900-1904)
George C. Boldt, owner of New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria and Philadelphia’s Bellvue-Stratford hotels, started construction on a Rhineland style castle in the Thousand Islands as a gift for his wife Louise. No expenses were spared in the planned six-story, 120-room castle, plus outbuildings and gardens. After Louise’s sudden death in 1904, more than 300 craftsmen were instructed to stop work on the castle. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority assumed ownership and has been working towards completing Boldt’s vision.
Singer Castle – Chippewa Bay, NY (1902-1904)
Frederick Gilbert Bourne, President of the Singer Manufacturing Company, wanted to surprise his wife Emma and their children with an island “hunting retreat.” He purchased Dark Island and constructed a 4-story, 28-room castle featuring a tower, an elaborate boathouse, tunnels, turrets, a 2-story ice house, dungeons, and underground passageways. Most of the architectural work is attributed to prominent American architect Ernest Flagg.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
Perhaps this nation’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. Wright designed several buildings in the Great Lakes Seaway Trail region including the Graycliff Estate in Derby; the Darwin Martin House Complex, William R. Heath House, and Walter V. Davidson House in Buffalo; and the Edward E. Boynton House in Rochester. More recently, several of his designs have been constructed in the Buffalo area including the Blue Sky Mausoleum (2004), the Rowing Boathouse (2007), and a new Filling Station at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum (currently in progress).
Darwin Martin House – Buffalo, NY (1903-1905)
The Martin House Complex ranks among Wright’s greatest works. Characterized by strong horizontal lines and planes, deeply overhanging eaves, a central hearth, prominent foundation, and a sheltering, cantilevered roof, the complex is Wright’s most extensive Prairie style home. Wright also designed the furniture and the famous Tree of Light stained glass windows. This National Historic Landmark is open for tours while continuing its exciting restoration plan to its condition of 1907.
Graycliff – Derby, NY (1926-1931)
Graycliff, situated on a 70-foot cliff overlooking Lake Erie, is considered to be one of Wright’s most important mid-career works. It served as the beloved summer home for the Martin Family from 1928 to the mid-1940’s. Incorporating numerous vertical windows to accommodate Isabelle Martin’s failing eyesight, Graycliff is considered to be a triumph of light and air. As Wright described it to Darwin Martin, “Coming in this house would be something like putting on your hat and going outdoors…”
WORKS BY AMERICAN MASTERS
In addition to Wright, other great American architects have created masterpieces along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
Louis Sullivan (1856 to 1924) – Guaranty Building, Buffalo NY (1894 – 1895)
Why is the 13-story Guaranty Building considered one of the first skyscrapers? Chicago architect Louis Sullivan overcame the need for thick walls to support a tall building by designing a steel skeleton to carry the floors and a thin “curtain” wall: the basis of all modern towers. What’s more he created a work of fine art from the overall form to the elaborate pattern designs on the terra cotta façade. Don’t miss the tile mosaics, art glass lobby skylight and ironwork.
H.H. Richardson (1838-1886) – Buffalo Psychiatric Center, Buffalo, NY (1870-1895)
H.H. Richardson popularized the revival of the Romanesque style in America, referred to a Richardson Romanesque. Richardson considered this National Historic Landmark to be his greatest accomplishment. The administration building with its twin medieval towers off Medina sandstone is the most dramatic feature of the complex. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the hospital grounds.
McKim, Mead and White – Eastman Theatre, Rochester, NY (1922)
The New York City firm of McKim, Mead and White created some of the greatest classically inspired buildings in America from 1810 into the 20th century. The firm was in great demand to design fashionable mansions (see the George Eastman House) and public buildings around the nation, so they sometimes collaborated with local architects to carry out their designs. The Eastman Theatre, donated by photography pioneer and music lover George Eastman, was designed with Rochester architect J. Foster Warner.
Andrew Jackson Warner (1833 – 1910) and J. Foster Warner (1859 – 1937) – Powers Building, Rochester, NY (1869 – 1888)
A.J. Warner and his son J. Foster were responsible for many of downtown Rochester’s important buildings between 1847 and 1937. The elaborate Second Empire-style Powers Building was expanded upward several times in its attempt to remain the tallest building in the city. The progressive interior featured elegant cast iron construction, mosaic marble floors and one of the first elevators in the United States, as well as A.J. Warner’s architectural office.
COBBLESTONE BUILDINGS (1825-1860)
Cobblestone masonry – horizontal rows of small stones and decorative mortar – was used to enhance buildings of many architecture styles. Between 1825 and 1860 over one thousand cobblestone structures were built in North America with 90% found within a 75 mile radius of Rochester. Early cobblestone buildings were constructed with glaciated stone (field stone) which local farmers gathered from clearing their fields. By 1840 and after, the exterior veneers were composed of lake-washed stone from the beaches of Lake Ontario. Lake stone was preferred because of its aesthetic appeal in being smaller, smoother and more uniform in shape and color as compared to field stone.
Cobblestone Museum – Childs, NY (1834-1849)
The Cobblestone Museum is a collection of three historic cobblestone buildings and five additional historic buildings all representing life and culture from Western New York’s past. The Cobblestone Church – the oldest cobblestone church in North America (1834) – is a National Historic Landmark along with the adjacent Ward House (1836) and the Cobblestone School (1849).
FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED (1822-1903)
Known as the father of landscape architecture, Olmsted, in collaboration with architect Calvert Vaux, designed several major park systems along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail as well as New York City’s Central Park. His designs for the country’s first urban parks, greenways and planned communities reflect a deep concern for promoting community and the restorative effects of natural scenery. After his retirement, his firm designed Thompson Park in Watertown, NY.
Buffalo Park System (begun 1868)
Olmsted described Buffalo as “the best planned city as to its streets, public places and grounds, in the United States if not the world.” His innovative design for Buffalo Parks consisted of a system of parks and interconnecting parkways extending through the heart of the city. Olmsted felt that access to green spaces for all city residents was essential for their physical and psychological well being. The largest park – Delaware Park – is still the heart of the Buffalo Park system.
Rochester Park System (begun 1888)
In order to preserve the scenic quality of the Genesee River in Rochester, Olmsted proposed 3 major parks: Genesee Valley Park, Seneca Park and Highland Park. The shrub arboretum he initiated in Highland Park is internationally renowned and especially spectacular during the annual Lilac Festival in May.
CULTURAL GATHERING PLACES
The style and details of a building are chosen not just for decoration, but to convey meaning to the structure. The language of classical Greek architecture, for example, has long been used for important public Greek symbols of democracy and the celebration of arts and philosophy.
Memorial Art Gallery – Rochester, NY (1913)
The elegant Memorial Art Gallery was designed in 1913 by John Gade in memory of the young son of the Sibley family of Western Union fame. The original Neo-classical building has been added to three times, most notably in the 1920’s with the addition of the Gothic Revival Fountain Court. The museum today contains a widely acclaimed collection of paintings and sculpture spanning many centuries, cultures and styles.
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society – Buffalo, NY (1901)
This stately Doric structure, designed by George Clay was originally the New York State building for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition – Buffalo’s international fair attended by 8,000,000 from May to November 1901. Awarded the design commission in a competition, young Buffalo architect George Cary (1859-1945), who had been classically trained in Paris, designed the building, faced and corniced with Vermont marble, in Doric style. The beautiful south portico, overlooking Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, is a scaled-down version of the east front of the Parthenon, in Athens. Cary was able to complete his original design in 1927 when the building was enlarged to accommodate the present-day Library and Auditorium.
GUARDIANS OF THE NORTHERN FRONTIER
During the 18th and early 19th centuries the Great Lakes were ringed with strategic fortifications built by the French, British and American military. Early forts often started as hastily erected earthen and timber walls surrounding a simple block house or barracks. Trained military engineers and architects laid out utilitarian yet ascetically pleasing structures based on European designs and contemporary military theory. On the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, most surviving military structures from the period feature stone masonry construction utilizing local stone, typically limestone.
The Castle at Old Fort Niagara – Youngstown, NY (1726)
The Castle at Old fort Niagara, built by the French in 1726 is the oldest surviving building on the Great Lakes. The British took control during the French and Indian War and relinquished the fort to the US following the American Revolution. Today it is restored to its earliest appearance and is the crown jewel of Old Fort Niagara, a NYS Historic Site. The fort, which contains many outstanding examples of military architecture, hosts daily tours and offers period reenactments.