From stagecoaches to funerals: Famous home evolves in Fredonia
By DOUGLAS H. SHEPARD
Special to the OBSERVER
An OBSERVER story of Dec. 17, 2017 featured Mark Twain’s sister, who lived on Central Avenue in Fredonia. The home of Charles Webster, Mark Twain’s nephew-in-law, was also discussed and shown in that article.
There is even more to the story of the Charles Webster house, located at today’s 20 Central Avenue. Five drawings and photographs from the Barker Museum demonstrate the Webster home’s architectural history.
About 1835, the Westfield architect John Jones, who later built the Risley mansions and the Fredonia Baptist Church, built the house at 20 Central Ave. in Fredonia for Thomas Griswold Abell, who established the stagecoach lines between Buffalo and Erie. The stage lines also passed through Forestville, Fredonia and Westfield.
A sketch of the Abell home appeared on the 1851 map of Fredonia. Abell and his older brother Mosely Wells Abell, also operated the former Hezekiah Barker hotel, which stood at today’s 1 Park Place. The Abell family was well connected all along the lake shore.
Mosely’s daughter married the Dunkirk/Fredonia entrepreneur Walter Smith, and they lived in a Greek Revival home on Central Avenue at East Fifth Street in Dunkirk, where a pharmacy stands today. A daughter of Thomas married Dr. David Forbes, for whom John Jones built the Greek Revival house on Forest Place, later known as the William Cushing home. A son of Thomas married the daughter of Silver Creek’s shipping magnate Oliver Lee, whose Greek Revival mansion remains on the hill above the downtown supermarket in Silver Creek.
In 1852, Dr. Charles Pringle bought Thomas G. Abell’s home at 20 Central Ave. in Fredonia. Pringle only kept the home until 1855, however, and then moved to Eagle Street. Chester Smith Percival then operated a church school at the Central Avenue home. The school only lasted until 1857, and the house went back to Pringle. Percival went on to become a chaplain during the Civil War.
In 1858, Scott Aldrich bought the home from Pringle. Aldrich had just arrived in Fredonia with several of his many children. In 1864, after the village had angered Aldrich by grading his front yard to create a more gradual slope along Central Avenue, Aldrich sold the home to Alice Goff of Dunkirk. Aldrich then built a frame house on the hill across the street, a house which was later replaced by the Fairbanks/Lambert mansion at today’s 17 Central Ave.
Goff did not keep the home at 20 Central Ave., but instead sold it to T. L. Higgins. The newspaper known as the Fredonia Censor reported on Jan. 3, 1872 that Higgins was making repairs to his home. Higgins also added the front and side porches, which were pictured in a sketch in the 1881 county atlas. In 1887, Higgins sold the house to Charles Webster, who then made the Queen Ann revisions that included a third floor ball room, wrap-around porches, and a tower observatory.
Webster died shortly after the renovations, but his family kept the home until 1904, when they sold it to Judge Warren Brewster Hooker and his wife Etta Abbey Hooker. In 1923, the house was sold to Albert and Emma Dohn. Two years later, Theresa Schrantz bought the home, and the newspaper reported that she was planning to transform the residence into the Chautauqua Inn.
Eight months later, the newspaper reported that after some revisions, Schrantz had just opened a hotel at 20 Central Ave., calling it the Webster Inn. The new business operated until 1929, when George E. Blood bought the house and remodeled it to become a funeral home. The enterprise and the house were later known as Blood and Larson, and still later known as Larson-Timko.
Further information and photos regarding this house and hundreds of other houses may be found at county historian Michelle Henry’s home page. After clicking on the Historical County Structure Database at Michelle’s website, click on Pomfret at the left. Then, scroll to the address of interest, and click on it.