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Button’s Inn revisited

BeeLines

June 5, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - WESTFIELD HISTORIAN (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Recently, a conversation on Greater Things About Westfield Facebook site morphed into a request for information about Button's Inn.

In 2007, BeeLines featured a photograph of a painting, hanging in the Patterson Library, of a photo postcard image of Button's Inn, plus a long story about the myths and facts surrounding the once-busy and popular "half-way house" on the old Portage Road between Barcelona and Chautauqua Lake. Following is a recap of parts of the article "Legends and stories of the early days of Westfield."

Button's Inn was made famous by Albion Tourgee's novel of the same title, published in 1887, although it was well known between 1823, when it was built, and 1855, when it ceased to be a "publick house." Tourgee wrote a love story, mystery novel using the name and location, but setting the story, characters and structure about a half-century earlier, and with French connections. In addition to the novel, Tourgee was familiar to me since my great uncle Roy Floyd Dibble had written an early biography of Tourgee.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of the Patterson Library’s Mateer Collection
An early 1880s photo of Button’s Inn when it was vacant and dilapidated used many times for postcards of the old inn and taken just prior to when the inn was torn down.

Several younger members of the Button family appeared in the pages of my great grandfather George Eli Dibble's recently discovered, read and transcribed 1868 diary, but by then the inn or tavern was no longer a "publick house." While researching background info for the 1868 GED diary project, I located a paper written in 1936 by Edna Button Dunn, a descendant of Ira Button, and read to the Patterson Chapter D.A.R., which is the most detailed and accurate description of the actual Button's Inn. She wrote it was a prosperous tavern, midway between Barcelona and Mayville, before the days of the railroad, so was on the road of commerce for shipping of goods from the Great Lakes to Pittsburg and the Mississippi River to the Gulf.

In Tourgee's novel, the heroine is Dotty, a "ravishingly beautiful" daughter of the innkeeper, Lonny Button, who was the grandson of the original builder and occupant- L'Honnete Boutonne - of inn. The inn was supposedly originally a French-Canadian trapper's log cabin from about 1750.

According to Holland Land Company records, the 1,000 acres or more of land upon which the inn was built in 1823 was purchased for $2,900 by Moses Chapman. Chapman sold it to Rufus Button on Dec. 9, 1842. Later it became the property of Rufus' son, Ira Button, who ran the tavern until 1855. Button family records show Ira Button, the final innkeeper, was born March 25, 1812. He married Laura Knapp of Panama, N.Y., on Christmas Day, 1835 and died Oct. 26, 1866. Edna Button Dunn tells the location of Button's Inn as a "half way house" on the old Portage Road, which was laid out by the French to connect between the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, in the mid 1700's - the road, not the inn.

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.

In a letter written in 1912 by Martin C Rice, first editor of the Westfield Republican circa 1856, he tells that his father moved the family from the east side of the Town of Chautauqua to Volusia in 1840. Rice recalled as a teenager they stopped at Button's Inn while traveling the Portage Road between Mayville and Westfield, "took dinner there and fed the teams ... visited with the rising generation in the hotel." Rice writes, "the overland travel on the Portage Road was then immense. The Government Break Water, at Barcelona had been built, and wharfs had been extended far out into the lake for landing of steam boats and sailing vessels."

By the time Tourgee's novel, "Button's Inn," was written in 1886, the inn had already deteriorated to the point where it had been torn down and its great beams used in other buildings. Sometime prior to this, a local photographer took photos of the dilapidated building from either side and made postcards. These photos can be found in the Mateer Collection at the Patterson Library and in the McClurg Museum Chautauqua County Historical Society's online photos.

Edna Button Dunn, in her D.A.R. paper, recalls in vivid detail the interior of the old inn as she and her sister, Maud, often went up the hill as children to visit their grandmother, Laura, who was living there with her son, Fred, and his family long after the inn closed in 1855. The 1875 and 1880 Census records confirm this. Fred and Addie Button's eldest daughter, Winnie or Winifred, was the last grandchild born in the old inn in 1880. Dunn shares several true stories about Button's Inn, which had a large ballroom with a fireplace on the second floor, opening out onto the upper front porch. One of these tells, "The first dancing party that H.T. Shaw every played for was at Button's Inn in 1847," when he was 16 years old. "Toot" Shaw played for more than 30 charity balls between 1847 and 1906. Realizing the inn was torn down by 1886, it is interesting to note the property remained in the Button family until about 1932 when it was purchased by Dr. Arthur B Cobb of Buffalo. Some of that area became known as Cobb's Woods, a tourist spot along with areas of the gorge during the first half of the 1900s.

The person who requested information asked if there is a marker identifying the location of Button's Inn. Since the area is private property and is close to the edge of a rugged and dangerous area of the gorge, no, there is no marker, although Button's Inn may be mentioned on a general historic sign along Route 394 that includes a description of the French Portage Road.

Some additional facts and myths may be read in Mayville Historian, Devon Taylor's "Chautauqua Gorge History, Legends and People" available for reading in the Patterson Library history files. The Mayville Public Library may still have copies for sale. Discussions with Taylor indicate there are probably no remaining artifacts marking the location of the once famous Button's Inn, except for photos, postcards, paintings and a fascinating but essentially fanciful novel by Albion Tourgee.

 
 
 

 

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