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One ‘fell through the cracks’ recently, the Stephens House at Forsythe

BeeLines

February 13, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

When this photo of the Stephens House was posted on a new Facebook website called Greater Things About Westfield, several comments expressed sadness and anger at the loss of one of our older and quite unique historic homes within the past 10 years.

"I loved this house ... it was also my mother's favorite house and we always talked about how we would fix it up if it were ours so many years ago ... was sick when it was torn down ... every time I think of the loss of this historic building, I start shaking," were posted on the site.

Joanne Nixon, having a premonition of the demise of the Stephens House, did a beautiful painting of it not long before it was torn down.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This photo of the Philip Lon Stephens House was taken sometime around 1975 for the Architecture Survey. The house was built in the late 1820s.

The Stephens House, on the north side of Route 20 between Rogerville Road and the Forsythe Bridge, was built in the late 1820s by Philip Lon Stephens. Stephens was a soldier in the War of 1812, born in 1787, who came to Westfield in 1808. He died in 1861. His first wife, Elizabeth Hale, died in 1859. Nine children were born to Philip and Elizabeth in that house - Hugh C, Philip Lon, Lanson P, George, Nelson, Eunice, Lavinda, Mary Ann and Clarissa. The Senior Philip Lon Stephens' second wife, Jane Cochran of the pioneer Cochran family, survived her husband in death and lived out her life in Ripley.

The 1867 Chautauqua County Atlas maps of Ripley and Westfield show the Stephens' house and property in the Town of Westfield, but there was only the Lake Shore Railroad, and Route 20 had no bridge where it crossed the railroad in the Town of Ripley. The line between the two townships is shown just west of the Stephens' properties. Between the line and the Route 20/Lakeshore Railroad cross are the properties of Mrs. M Cochran, I. Cochran and J. Forsythe. Perhaps these Cochran families were the relatives of Stephens' second wife, Jane Cochran.

At his death, Stephens' extensive farmlands and the house passed to the ownership of two sons, Hug C. and Lanson P. Stephens. On the 1867 map, it appears that in addition to the large brick house, there was a barn nearby as well as another house at the east end of the property, adjacent to the brick Rogerville Schoolhouse which was attended by many Stephens children. Hugh C. Stephens continued ownership of the house and reared his family on the farm.

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 westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net.

The Stephens House was constructed of bricks made on-site or very nearby, as was done for many or most of the brick buildings along Route 20 west of Westfield. The remains of a brickyard at Light Road, and the records of several of the other homes and buildings confirm this. According to Frank Clement of Orchard Park, a brick collector and expert on historic bricks and brickmaking, the quality of these bricks varies considerably, as not all clay soils are equally suited to making hard bricks that will last over the centuries. Also the temperature to which the bricks are baked determines their strength and durability. This make explain the demise of the Stephens House and other historic brick buildings in Westfield, because they were determined to be unrestorable being constructed of made-on-site soft brick. Also, according to "An Historical Survey - Architecture in Westfield" published in 1975, the Philip Lon Stephens House was done in a style called Federal architecture, and they wrote, "the brick surface is flat and without ornament and the appearance is rather light and delicate."

In the "Thirty-sixth of a Series - Westfield Past and Present" about The Stephens House, published in 1962 in The Westfield Republican, the author states, "The house and land, long the property of Wilson Rood, passed to the ownership of Walter Falvay in 1950." Both Rood and Falvay were important businessmen in Westfield's Concord grape farming and grape product factories. Earlier in the article is written, "It is believed that the Stephens family planted the first grape vineyards in Westfield west of the Chautauqua Creek. For many years their farm lands were among the most extensive and finest in the town."

In 1962, plans for the reconstruction of the dangerous old Forsythe Bridge were drawn to spare the old Stephens House. How sad it is that a little over 50 years later, nothing could be done to save the historic building from, "slipping through the cracks" into oblivion.

Unfortunately, this historic structure was not even one of those included in the 1984 historic preservation process of nomination of Westfield buildings for the National Register of Historic Places. Apparently the process was limited to the Village of Westfield and did not include structures outside the village, in the Town of Westfield. According to a copy of the National Register Nomination Form, a statewide inventory of historic resources had been done in 1980 by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which included Westfield buildings.

There are many other historic buildings and structures, both in the Village and the Town of Westfield, that should be added to the State and National Registries of Historic Places. But even being included in the registry is not enough to protect historic structures from being demolished by owners who decide they are not restorable. Our current zoning regulations also have nothing enforceable in them to protect our historic buildings.

At my first two Association of Public Historians of New York State conferences in 2007 and 2008, I attended workshops for newly appointed public historians to learn what my job entailed. Historic preservation is a primary activity, and in an excellent workshop about that, I learned protection from destruction of historic structures requires the enactment of a law "with teeth" making the village or town into a Certified Local Government. As Westfield Town and Village Historian(s) I suggest if Westfield truly wants to be known as a historic village and town, we should explore and implement such a law. This, coupled with our current emphasis on promoting Westfield to prospective businesses, new residents and tourism, could be a significant effort towards the restoration of Westfield.

 
 
 

 

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