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Lots of questions, and possibly some answers

August 18, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

"Have you ever heard of the Seward Guard?" I asked some local history researchers.

"Nope!" was the only reply. "Me neither," I commented, "At least not until I was submerged in research for the 2016 History Fair Project on Historic Fires of Westfield, trying to find out where Metropolitan Hall was located." "And what do Metropolitan Hall or the Seward Guard have to do with Historic Fires of Westfield?"

Ah, yes! Those are good questions, and I thought I had some good answers too. Metropolitan Hall kept popping up over and over as one of the venues for all sorts of lectures, dances, and other events, from as early as 1856, but it was not mentioned in that regard after about 20 years later, and definitely not after the terrible 1884 fire that destroyed the Westfield House & Block, and the McClurg Block. So I started to suspect that maybe Metropolitan Hall was located in the McClurg Block. So what and where were the Westfield House and McClurg Block?

Article Photos

Submitted photos
At top, is an 1880 photo that shows the McClurg Block (SW Corner Main & Portage) on the left in background, The Westfield House (NW Corner Main & Portage) on the right background
Above, is Lyons 1909 that shows on the left, the Johnston Block (Thomas Horning Store in 1909) at #7, and lighter colored Lyons Central Drug Store, another vacant store at #8 & #9 with the IOOF sign upstairs. This is what was originally the Babcock Block in 1853, then the Metropolitan Block in the 1860s and 70s, and by 1909 was the Kent Block. The Kent Block burned in 1922 and was replaced by the only two story white V.A. Kent 1922 Building that now houses Time Warner Cable.

James McClurg had built the Westfield House and a row of businesses at the NW corner of what is now Main and Portage Streets about 1829, and the Westfield House became one of the most famous and highly regarded Inns and Stagecoach stops on the early Buffalo-Erie Road. About the same time, he also had a large brick building, called the McClurg Block, plus another row of businesses constructed on the SW corner, all as a windbreak to the powerful westerly winds that often threatened his large mansion in the back of Moore Park or Village Commons.

Although notices and ads about events at Metropolitan Hall are numerous through the Westfield Republican newspapers from 1856 to about 1876, not a single one gives an address or block location for the hall. Other halls, whose locations are well known, were available during the late 1800s as well Hinckley Hall, Wells Opera House, Virginia Hall, Academy Hall in the 1837 Academy, and Union Hall in the 1868 Union School.

Research unearthed a couple other pieces of information that seemed to support the supposition about the McClurg Block. In 1860 a tight rope walking event took place for which a rope was strung from the Westfield House to Metropolitan Hall. Since McClurg Block was directly across Main Street from the Westfield House and was three stories high, it was a good possibility. And in 1876, a new military group, named the Seward Guard, was formed in Westfield, and they made use of the former Metropolitan Hall as a headquarters for meetings, and as an armory for arms and equipment. The McClurg Block, as seen in an 1880 photo, seemed a likely building that might house an armory.

The only other suspect building would have been the one directly across from the Westfield House, at the NE Corner of Main and Portage, where the Spencer Block that housed Virginia Hall now stands. But the Spencer Block was built in 1872, when Metropolitan Hall was still an active performance site. Also, an old article about the history of the fire department mentioned that the previous building had burned down just prior to when Dr. Spencer built Spencer Block/Virginia Hall. So that building was out.

Unfortunately, there are only seven surviving newspaper issues for the four years prior to 1873 in local or digitized archives. Luckily those seven newspapers, plus a couple others from the later 1870s, had enough snippets of information that suggested another possible building as the location for Metropolitan Hall.

The first break-through was a short paragraph in the January 31, 1877 Westfield Republican that announced, "Dr. F. B. Brewer, as Supervisor, has about closed a contract with Mr. Joshua B. Babcock for the use of the second and third stories of Metropolitan Block, for an armory for Seward Guard military company. Should the contract be closed, the third story will be fitted for a drill room, while rooms in the second story will be prepared for armory and reading room." Is this another previously unknown Block Name Metropolitan Block? Which business block had the name of Metropolitan Block? This was a surprise "history mystery!" So after another round of research, sure enough, another mention of Metropolitan Block was located.

A business called Sixby's New Store, which was located in the Buck building next door to the Spencer building, in June 1871, had been previously located at 8 & 9 Main in 1869. This building had been built by Babcock in 1853, so was named the Babcock Block at that time. It was owned by V.A. Kent in 1909 at the time of the Wells Block Fire and called the Kent Block then. However, in a large display ad for Sixby's store in 1869, the same building was called the Metropolitan Block.

But wait! How could a building several doors east down Main Street from the Westfield House have been the other end of that tightrope event in 1860? Well, a photo postcard of the buildings on Main Street from about 1890 shows the Babcock building as being three stories with a high roofline. And the information available about the building that preceded the Spencer Block at the corner of Main and Portage across from the Westfield House described it as being "a block house, made of hewn logs, [only] two stories high". So the tight rope could have easily been strung over the top of the shorter buildings to the highest roof along that part of Main Street. Or, since the Westfield House extended quite a bit further south on the NW corner than the first buildings on the SW corner, the rope may have had a long distance of free space to extend from it, above Main Street, before reaching the top of the three-story Babcock Building housing the Metropolitan Hall.



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