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Are we ‘falling through the cracks?’ — history of places, structures


February 6, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

"You know, as soon as a building is built, it becomes historical," a local public historian said at a Government Appointed Historians of Western New York meeting presentation.

"You're right," said another. "And that goes for people and ephemera, too."

More discussion erupted with realizations that not only are we losing our oldest buildings, structures, documents and stories, but it seems that even now we lose track of our local folk as they age, or their ephemera as homes succumb to the ravages of fires, floods and violent storms.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
A photo of the Hungerford House during the era it was the Ajax Flexible Coupling Company.

Recent totally unrelated activities stimulated an anxious early-morning wake up from dreams of losing an elderly friend whom I have not seen recently.

"Is she OK? Where is she living now that her home and all her belongings were destroyed by fire," I mused, and became determined to track her down as soon as it was a reasonable hour for contacting people.

I always wonder what brings up something like this "out of the blue," but then started remembering a fellow historian had recently requested information about Grace Schlick - thanks to all who phoned with information of her whereabouts. And on Great Things About Westfield, a Facebook website maintained by Jason Beers, there have been photos of several old, deteriorating Westfield buildings in the former industrial district near the railroads and discussions about how beautiful they once were, or what could be done to revive or restore or repurpose them for the betterment of our beloved community.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union Street, in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., or by appointment. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457, and the email mail address is

So these disparate thoughts and communications above are the seeds for another series of BeeLines article, starting with the Hungerford Mansion. Back in September of 2009, I received my first of many fascinating emails from Jason Beers:

"Subject: Question about Sextus Hungerford's house... I grew up in Westfield and now live out in LA... collector of antique paper currency... banks of Westfield... know that Sextus Hungerford was the man who founded the first bank in Westfield... his home in Westfield... been told... that his home was what later became the Ajax factory... is this in fact true?"

After a few email exchanges to confirm the answer to his question, Beers provided a couple of recent photos he had taken of the front of the building, and asked, "Doesn't this archway in the middle look like it might have been the front door at one time?" In response, I provided him with drawings from the 1854 and 1881 maps and a photograph from the later 1800s.

The house on North Portage at English Street - between the two sets of railroad tracks - described in a December 1920 article titled "Dr. Welch's New Purchase" was built by Hungerford in 1851. This was three years before there was a Lake Shore - later NY Central - Railroad and 30 years before the Nickel Plate railroad was built making it less suitable as a residence. Sextus Hungerford died in 1867, leaving no children, and he bequeathed liberally to several benevolent institutions. His widow, Maria, continued to support these until her death in 1895 when she was living on Main Street. Included was her offering of the Hungerford Mansion on North Portage to the Keeley Institute in February 1892. In October 2010, BeeLines started a series of articles about the history of hospitals in Westfield. One of these, The Keeley Institute, a branch of a sanitarium for the cure of alcoholics and drug addicts, was established in 1880 by Dr. Leslie E. Keeley, a civil war surgeon, in Illinois. The Westfield branch didn't last long, only from about 1892 to 1894. In 1907, the Portage Street overhead bridge over the Nickel Plate completed the depreciation of the once most attractive place. Dr. C.E. Welch purchased the Hungerford place on North Portage Street from a Mrs. James Taylor. In addition to the Welch Grape Juice Company, Dr. Welch started or supported a number of other business ventures including the Thomas Flexible Coupling Corporation. After Thomas turned over the business to Max Bornand, a Welch appointed administrator, the name was changed to Ajax Flexible Coupling Company, and soon Bornand was replaced by Bill Welch. When Bill Welch died in 1961, his wife, Ruth, continued to run the business and expanded the physical facilities. In 1972, Ruth Welch sold her interests to a British based company, Renold Ltd of Manchester.

In the 1980s many of Westfield's historic homes and businesses were nominated for consideration to be placed on The National Register of Historic Places, including Ajax, aka Hungerford House. At that time the building had been recently emptied, but was still owned by Renold Ltd of England. Since the building, from 1920 on, had many alterations and additions - concrete block and steel to back and sides and partitions for offices - this disqualified the structure from the registry. Since the 1980s, a number of small businesses operated for short periods in the space, including a furniture hospital. The building has stood idle and deteriorating for probably two decades. Inside are very few items and structures harkening back to its original beauty as a residence.

But hope springs eternal in the hearts and minds of a few Westfield folk, and suggestions have been offered on GTAW regarding the possibility of the "right" person or group acquiring the former "grand old lady," removing the factory additions and gradually restoring the original house to some semblance of respect and beauty. Perhaps it and the surrounding area could become a Westfield history center? Recent changes in ownership of other historic buildings in the area and suggestions for repurposing several of them could feed into this project. Stay tuned for another article in this series in the near future. And share feedback with the Westfield Historian. Thanks.

Trump family correction

In the article "Learning more about the Trump family," which ran in this newspaper on Thursday, Jan. 17, Peter Trump was incorrectly said to be the son of Fred Trump, the deceased author of "Lincoln's Little Girl." Peter Trump is the son of Roger Trump, who is very much alive.



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