In 1811 Samuel Wilkeson was a 30-year-old man who was born outside of Pittsburgh, PA and was living in Portland, NY. He was a salt merchant, freight forwarder and a bit of a shipbuilder. When the war of 1812 began he was making boats for the army. By 1815 he was a member of the Chautauqua Militia defending the Village of Buffalo from invading Canadians and British who ultimately burnt the village to the ground in retaliation for the earlier burning of York (Toronto) Canada by U.S. troops.
Wilkeson liked what he saw of Buffalo and stayed. During his life he took personal responsibility for a then enormous $12,000 state loan to secure the construction of the first Buffalo Harbor. He then led the fight to see that the Erie Canal terminated in Buffalo and not the Village of Black Rock,now a part of the city of Buffalo. He raised a family, became a village trustee, County Judge, State Senator and in 1836 the 5th mayor of the new City of Buffalo (1832). Samuel Wilkeson passed away in 1848, but not before seeing the birth of his grandson and namesake – Samuel Wilkeson.
The younger Wilkeson began military service during the Civil War as a Lieutenant with the 11th New York Cavalry. He was regularly promoted until reaching the rank of full Colonel. Wilkeson saw action over four years of service in Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. In 1885, Col. Wilkeson purchased a home at what is now 771 Busti Ave. It is of a design called Italianate Architecture and was constructed in 1862, a mere 151 years ago.
The home will be razed to accommodate the Peace Bridge Authority. It is one of the oldest homes in Buffalo. It has been allowed to deteriorate. No one wanted to save it. No one wanted to move it. Only a few saw its value but lacked the resources to make a difference.
Why is the home facing a bulldozer extermination? After years and years of acrimonious local debate, a new Peace Bridge vehicle plaza will be constructed to process truck freight traffic. Tractor-trailers arriving from a semi-rural Canadian municipality and passing through the heart of a densely populated urban/college community are deemed more important than the local neighborhood. I presume the 2nd bridge will soon be built leading to the disappearance of yet another part of the Olmsted designed Front Park along with more neighboring buildings on Busti Ave. This part of the road itself might even become a memory.
What makes it ironic is that just 2.2 miles away down Busti Ave. to Virginia St to Niagara St. to Pearl St. lies the heart of the City of Buffalo “Canalside” district and the Commercial Slip. This place is Judge Samuel Wilkeson’s Western Terminus of the Erie Canal.
Sadly the prevalent buzz word often used in this area by people who do not see history as a positive and a potential attraction is “obstructionist.” In this instance the non-obstructionists won their case. A historic home, labeled an out of date derelict, will disappear and the city will lose a connection to the family that played such a huge role in this community’s early history and growth.
Too bad there wasn’t even a thought given to relocation, not even to the canal harbor for use as a visitors center, waterfront museum, or, period invoking B & B.