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William Henry Seward’s legacy in Westfield – land office and mansion

BeeLines

May 8, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Soon after William Henry Seward's tragic loss of his infant daughter, the nation was plunged into the Panic of 1837 leading to further political upheavals. Some friends tried to persuade Seward to run for state assembly or senate, but he declined because of his land office work in Westfield and for political concerns.

The outcome of that year's election was positive, which led to celebrations around the area. Seward joined in several parties and hosted one himself in Westfield, most likely in his McClurg Mansion residence with land office one late autumn evening.

Seward now considered the possibility of running for New York State Governor. He decided to relocate his brother Benjamin Jennings Seward to Westfield with his family to be trained take over the land office business, should he be elected. Seward purchased Asa Farnsworth's modest farmhouse at 82 N. Portage to house his brother's family and provide space for the land office. Benjamin, although he was 8 years older, needed much supervision by William, and while he was out campaigning, sent many letters of instruction. In fall 1838, William was nominated for Governor of the State of New York and was elected, so he wound up his affairs in Auburn and Westfield and six weeks later moved to Albany to take office. William continued to write letters to his brother, Benjamin, regarding how to run the land agency, and also promising to visit. During the winter of 1839-40, based on William's directions, the Farnsworth house at 82 N. Portage Street was remodeled, adding the front section with its handsome Greek-Revival pillars. Benjamin lived there until 1841, at which time it was purchased by George W. Patterson who succeeded William as land agent.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This old photo of the land office building at 82 N. Portage was taken in the mid-1900s before it was remodeled into a house around 1960.

Further research regarding the land office has discovered an error in an assumption made from a paragraph on pages 131-132 in Andrew W. Young's "History of Chautauqua" regarding the construction of the land office building at 85 N. Portage Street. After describing Seward's establishing his office first at the Westfield house building, Young states, "A commodious building for a land-office was soon erected on North Portage," but he does not give the year or who constructed it. According to several other historic sources, the red brick land office was built by Patterson in 1841, since he wished to separate the land office business from his personal home across the street at 82 N. Portage. Patterson was the final land office agent, and he went on to become Lieutenant Governor of New York while living in the mansion. In 1846 the Land Company was dissolved, but Patterson continued to use the building as his office until his death in 1879. During the two or three years Andrew Young was writing his 1875 "History of Chautauqua County," he was given use of the land office.

In 1936, the Land Office was opened to the public with a $0.10 admission for the benefit of St. Peter's Guild. In the building were the original desks, equipment, old safe, old maps and other ephemera of the era. Until 1956, the Land Office was part of the Crandall family home property. It was later converted to a residence with a white frame addition by Patterson Crandall and became the property of the Judson Blanchard family, who built a modern fireplace where the Land Office front door was located and enlarged the two small windows on either side of the former door.

The mansion at 82 N. Portage, which has become known as the William Seward Inn, was never lived in by William Henry Seward himself. Although he may have visited his brother, Benjamin, before Patterson bought the mansion, William's letters to Benjamin often apologized for not visiting, while instructing him in the land office business. But Patterson's family continued to reside in the mansion, and it became the center of social life of the Village of Westfield in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When Patterson died in 1879, the house was inherited by his daughter, Hannah Patterson, and was eventually passed on to her niece, Catherine Louise Crandall. Crandall, a grandniece of Patterson, added a third large section at the rear of the mansion to provide even more space for the entertaining and housing of guests.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net.

Early 1900 postcards showing the mansion refer to it as the Patterson home, while in the mid-1900s it was called the Crandall House, or sometimes the Patterson-Crandall House or Mansion.

After Catherine Crandall's death in 1953, the heirs sold the mansion to the Welch Grape Juice Company, which leased the home to Lucille Owens, an interior decorator. In 1966, when the historic Farnsworth-Seward-Patterson-Crandall home was threatened by the Welch Company plan to demolish it for further expansion, Owens had the building moved up the hill to its present location in three sections. By the mid-1970s, the moving and restoration of the mansion was completed, but had overwhelmed the finances of Owens, so she was forced to sell. For a short while it became "a Youthful House of God," and later fell into the hands of "squatters" and deteriorated. In 1981, Bruce and Barbara Johnson bought the mansion, renovating it into a bed and breakfast - The William Seward Inn - in the mid-1980s. The inn has changed hands several times in recent years.

Currently, in 2013, the building is for sale and is needing much work since the most recent owners apparently stripped the over 190-year-old mansion of many of its beautiful furnishings and adornments. They also appear to have done little to nothing to maintain the building from normal deterioration, and the rough weather on the escarpment has continued to batter the exterior of the formerly beautiful building.

Is yet another historic Westfield building "slipping through the cracks"?

 
 
 

 

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