"Do you know when a fire severely damaged the residence at 56 North Portage?" This question was one of several asked of your Westfield Historian by some people interested in possibly purchasing the beautiful old home that was most recently the residence of the Northrup family (1940-2016) and offices of the late Dr. Robert S Northrup (1907-1983).
Dr. Northrup moved to Westfield in May 1935 and established a general practice. According to the Jan. 9, 1940 Westfield Republican, Dr. Northrup opened his doctor offices at 56 North Portage on Jan. 7th. Apparently, the Northrups were negotiating the purchase of that property, perhaps renting and renovating during negotiations as a search at the Chautauqua County Courthouse shows that Northrup's deed to the property was recorded in Sept. 1941, received from the prior Dr. Stephen A. Brown family heirs
Starting with several old maps of Westfield, the names of some previous owners of the property now known as 56 North Portage, Westfield NY, were obtained. The earliest map examined, the 1854 Wall Map of Chautauqua County, shows SVR Wells (of Wells Opera House "fame") as owner of a house at that location, with A. Patchen at the property to the south, and E. Buck to the North.
Photo by Marybelle Beigh
Above is a 2017 photo of 56 North Portage, showing the front of the house from the north corner, including the enclosed front porch wing. The Westfield Historian is requesting a copy of a vintage photo of the house prior to the addition of the enclosed front porch wing. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A courthouse "mini title search" determined that a Sidney Wells purchased property in Lot 6 of Township 2, Range 13 from the Holland Land Company, at least twice, two parcels, prior to1857, which was the earliest clear date found for a deed and names of grantor/grantee. The house was built in 1850, and in April 1857, SVR Wells sold the property to Joseph C. Gifford.
On the 1867 Chautauqua County Atlas map for the village of Westfield, a Dr. J. C. Gifford is owner, with H. (probably a drafting error, S/B A.) Patchen to the south and E. Buck to the north.
By 1881, the Beers Atlas shows J. C. Gifford sill the owner, with Mrs. A Patchen to the south and Mrs. E. Buck to the north. This 1881 map is the only one that shows the "footprint" or shape of the buildings, and at that time the house in question was smaller, not having the L-shaped addition with porch to the north.
Of the many Sanborn maps for Westfield 1886, 1891, 1896, 1902, 1907, 1912, and 1923 only the last two extend on the west side of North Portage, to the north beyond Clinton Street. Both the 1912 and 1923 Sanborn maps show the house at 56 N Portage with a "footprint" similar to the current building structure, but sans the attached garage.
Researching old digitized Westfield Republican newspapers provided further details about some of the people who owned the property. Dr. J. C. Gifford was a dentist, but he only lived at the house on N Portage, having his dental office at what was then 17 Main Street (now 33 E Main), on the 2nd floor above a drug store there, from 1882 until his death in 1896. Prior to 1882, Dr. Gifford had a dental office on the 2nd floor of the newly constructed Brewer Block (where the 1975 telephone building is now), starting in 1866. Dr. Gifford had relocated from No. 15 Main Street, over D. Rockwell & Co.'s Hat and Shoe Store, where he had first set up his dental business in September 1859. According to his obituary in the June 3, 1896 Republican, he was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a member and past Master of the local Masonic Summit Lodge (No. 219 F. & A.M.), and always active in the larger Dental Association meetings. His wife Rachel, whom he married in 1848, and Dr. Joseph C. Gifford, lost their only son, Clarence Gifford, in 1877.
In June 1902, Rachel R. Gifford, Dr. J.C. Gifford's widow sold the property on North Portage to Stephen A. Brown (1868-1924), the deed to which was not recorded until 1907. A lot happened at that house! Stephen Brown was also a doctor, married, with one daughter Dorothea Brown who was Dorothea Woodburn when she sold the house to Dr. Robert Northrup in 1941.
One scary event for the Browns at 56 NP was when Dorothea was robbed at gunpoint by a burglar when coming home late one night and unlocking the house to get in (April 1923). Her father and sick mother were next door at Mrs. Patchen's at the time. And not even the maid her the break in! Stephen Abner Brown is listed in the Westfield Cemetery book, which gave his dates as 1868-1924, from which his obituary was located that included the information about him being a doctor.
After a diligent search using several combinations of search words and terms, BINGO!!! In the May 29, 1912 issue of the Westfield Republican was a page one headline, "Another Bad Blaze" in the residence of Dr. S. A. Brown on North Portage Streetthe family escaped in their night clothes, the blaze was extinguished but not before "the building was practically gutted, as the fire started in the cellar and worked its way up between the partitions. There had not been a fire in the furnace for some time and it is not known how the fire caught."
So, it appears that only four families have lived at 56 North Portage since it was built in 1850, of which three were headed by doctors!