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A Wardway Model Home - The Cranford in North Tonawanda

Growing up in "downstate" New York,  Montgomery Ward was not on my flight path. New Jersey malls were usually anchored by Sears, Roebuck and J.C. Penney and my freshman year in North Carolina didn't widen my department store horizon to include Wards. I never lived beyond the Eastern Time Zone -- beyond the land of Bamberger's, B. Altman, Abraham and Strauss, and Alexander's (in addition to the usual suspects).  Boy! am I aging myself! Anyway . . .

From various accounts it looks like Wards opened a home division in Buffalo in about 1930 and they built model homes in both North Tonawanda in Niagara County and Buffalo in Erie County in the fall of that year.  While the Buffalo model home was well advertised with multiple articles and announcements,  the North Tonawanda house just had a handful of ads in local Niagara County newspapers.

The model that was chosen in North Tonawanda was the Cranford, a charming home with six rooms and a bath and the house was built at 253 Oelkers Street, North Tonawanda, NY. (a little NT trivia - Carl L. Oelkers was City Engineer from 1915 to 1943 with 1933-1934 off for WPA work.)

So far these are the only advertisements I have found for the Cranford.

Niagara Falls Gazette, September 20, 1930. 

The North Tonawanda Evening News, September 20, 1930

According to the 1940 census, 253 Oelkers was occupied by the Matthews Family-- Harold L., Edna, sons Duane and Bob, and mother-in-law Minnie Schultz. Also according to the 1940 census, they were there in 1935 so it is a good guess that they were the first owners. The  Matthews lived there at least through the death of Harold Matthews in 1972. In the latter part of the 1970s, 253 Oelkers was inhabited by the Kirsts.

I initially took some screen shots and was planning on eventually going to NT to take real-life photos (there are a lot of Bennett homes there) when I saw that it was up for sale and was having an open house!  So armed with a copy of the two ads and the catalog page, I drove 20 minutes and went to the open house.

It is a surprisingly large and (not-so-surprisingly) very charming house. Most of the original details like the hardware and lighting fixtures are gone. There is still the original telephone nook and heat vent. Outside the half-timber details have fallen victim to vinylization. Doors have been replaced. The upstairs wasn't open to the public (or at least it was blocked off and I didn't ask), but I took a few photos of the interior and many of the exterior.

Wardway model home, The Cranford, 253 Oelkers St North Tonawanda, NY built September 1930. (photo Sarah Mullane)
Windows match up nicely. (photo Sarah Mullane)

Original telephone nook in the dining room off of the kitchen. Rather high up on the wall, one would have to stand! (photo Sarah Mullane)
Vent beneath the telephone nook. (photo Sarah Mullane)
Dining room windows. Underneath the autumn decor is a decorative wooden box valance that the Real Estate agent told me the daughter of the second owners remembers from her childhood. Whether or not it's original, I can't say. I have something similar in my 1920s kitchen. (photo Sarah Mullane)

Looking down the stairs from the kitchen to the side door. Stairs to the basement on the left.
(photo Sarah Mullane)
Photos from the landing at the side door looking up to the first floor. Closet at the top, dining room on left. (photo Sarah Mullane)

View from dining room to living room. You can see the phone nook high up on the right.
(photo Sarah Mullane)

Dining room from Living room through to the back porch. Kitchen on left.
(photo Sarah Mullane)
View of Living room, front door, stairs to the right, telephone nook in dining room. (Photo courtesy of Hunt Realty.) 
Stairs to the second floor from the living room.(photo Sarah Mullane)
Kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Hunt Realty)

Image from the 1930 Wardway catalog

A Picture Perfect Bennett "Vernon" (Literally!!!)

Ray H Bennett Vernon in its debut appearance 1922

Probably the most well-documented Ray H. Bennett house in the Buffalo-Niagara area is the Vernon at 244 Potters Road, Buffalo, NY. There have been newspaper articles, TV segments, Youtube videos . . . and I am going to add to the documentation. 😄

The Bennett Vernon made its debut in 1922 (catalog 21) and appeared in catalog 24 (1923), catalog 30 (1925), catalog 34 (1926), catalog 38 (1928), and catalog 39 (1930). It probably appeared in other catalogs, but it looks like it was no longer offered by catalog 43 (1937).  Ray H. Bennett was no longer associated with Ray H. Bennett Lumber Co. in 1937 having left the company around 1934.

The Vernon illustrated in catalogs 21, 24, and 30 is the very house at 244 Potters Road, Buffalo, NY. built in 1922 by Herman Lasch.

Notice of building permit Buffalo Evening News July 12, 1922

Notice of mortgage Buffalo Courier July 4, 1922. 
In the original catalog photo below, you can just see Cazenovia Park and Cazenovia Creek in the background along the horizon. Now it's obscured by other houses and almost 100 years of tree growth. Interestingly, the first two years the house appeared in the catalog, the house was devoid of landscaping. When it appeared in catalog 30, the editor decided to add foliage to the photo.  In the next catalog, they used a whole new photo of a different Vernon.

Herman Lasch's Vernon in catalogs 21 and 24.

Herman Lasch's Vernon with a catalog makeover in catalog 30.
Here are some of the articles and videos about 244 Potters Road.

YouTube video - this was a real estate ad from when the house was on the market in 2006. Shows a bit of the history of the house and the beautiful interiors. The catalog image that is shown is from the second, later Vernon - not Mr. Lasch's. Note the chimneys and the brick instead of stone foundation.

Article from the wonderful Buffalo-related website, Forgotten Buffalo:

They re-post an article that appeared in the Buffalo News that contains some inaccuracies which are kind of surprising coming from the director of the (now defunct?) North Tonawanda History Museum (I'll go into those in a later post - stay tuned!).

I'm a sucker for Dutch Colonial houses and Ray H Bennett Lumber Co offered quite a few. I love the Vernon for its quirkiness - the single window and the bump-out with the double window on the first floor in particular. I've found quite a few in Erie and Niagara Counties, but none as nice as this one.

The Lay of the Land: The Tonawandas

Buffalo-Niagara contains two towns collectively known as "The Tonawandas". The Tonawandas, also known as the "Twin Cities" consist of the City of Tonawanda and North Tonawanada. These connected towns are located where the Niagara River and the Erie Canal meet - or at least the Niagara River and Tonawanda Creek, which is utilized by the Erie Canal.  I believe that the towns got their names from Tonawanda Creek.

The interesting thing about the Twin Cities is that one, North Tonawanda, is located in Niagara County and the City of Tonawanda is located in Erie County.

To muddy the water further is the THIRD Tonawanda. The TOWN of Tonawanda, located south of and sharing a border with the City of Tonawanda, isn't really related to the other two towns at all. The Town of Tonawanda (aka TTon) is hooked up with the Village of Kenmore and Ken-Ton (as they are usually known) is technically part of Buffalo, NY.

When one is talking about Tonawanda, or if real estate listings list Tonawanda as the town, they are usually talking about the City of Tonawanda.  It can get confusing.

Why all this stuff about the different Tonawandas? Because I enjoy spelling Tonawanda over and over and over? (I list my address as Kenmore, personally.) No! Because Ray H Bennett means North Tonawanda specifically — the company was located in North Tonawanda and there are specific industrial and economic reasons for this which doesn't pertain to the City of Tonawanda, nor the Town.  I've seen articles about the Ray H Bennett company where the Tonawanda and North Tonawanda are both used. They are not interchangeable and I am being a stickler.   There, I feel better now.

Below are some links to the various Tonawandas. Enjoy!,_New_York,_New_York

Where do I begin? I have a Plan . . .

I think when most people start blogs like this they start with their own home or a house close to their hearts. I am no different.

The house on Sheridan Drive in 2015 (photo by Jerome Mullane)

This house is special. Built around 1927, it was the only house on the block until about 1938. In later years (and still today) it rises like a Colonial Revival Venus from a sea of 1950s ranch houses.

Aerial photo of the Great Motorway System showing the section of Sheridan Drive between Elmwood Ave. and Delaware Ave. House is marked with a yellow arrow. 1927.

Sheridan Drive west of Delaware Ave. House is marked in the yellow square. 1927.

Top: Anna and Charles V. Busch, original owners. They lived there from 1927 to about 1932. They went bankrupt, the house went to bank ownership and they ended up living in a small house on the block behind, School Rd (now School St).

The house in the mid-1950s. The roof was still very terracotta and the shutters and front door were painted aqua. It looked like the Howard Johnson's that was diagonally across the street. 

I had heard from various sources that it was a Sears house. I knew what that meant as I was interested in mail-order, or kit-houses since my sister moved into a small bungalow in Tulsa, OK in 1988.  I now began my research in earnest and it was at this point that I started "collecting" mail order houses. I searched various blogs and websites, joined a Facebook group or two, found some wonderful, similar houses but nothing that really fit the profile of the house. 

Then someone in one of the groups forwarded me a page from a 1927 William A. Radford catalog, Build a Home First - Artistic Homes. William A Radford offered plan book houses. Plan books differed from mail-order, or kit homes because you could only purchase the blueprints and were on your own for the materials and labor whereas with kit homes, well you ordered the house and  received the whole kit and caboodle down to the screws and nails.

From William A Radford's 1927 Build a Home First (Artistic Homes)
This was the first house that truly resembled The House. I started searching William A. Radford materials.

During an internet search, I came across Keith's Magazine on Homebuilding and this in the March 1921 issue:

Keith's Magazine of Home building, March 1921 page 86 (link to Google Books)

I had a house and a name, Lawrence A. Barnard - an architect out of New York City and Westchester. This led to the July 1919 issue of William A. Radford's trade magazine American Builder and, of all things, Creo-Dipt Co. Inc., a local Western New York company located in North Tonawanda, NY (Niagara County). Creo-Dipt specialized in creosote treated shingles and roofing. (They also invented a faux thatched roof.)
July 1919 American Builder magazine page 59 (link to Google Books)
Creo-Dipt advertisement
Creo-Dipt Stained Shingle Homes catalog (link to
I have found many of the actual homes in this catalog. One home is in North Tonawanda, NY. 

I am now armed with the architect, the owner of the house and the city and state where the house was located. Now I had to find it! I spent weeks and then months doing census searches, newspaper searches, Google flyovers, and randomly Google driving down blocks that had houses with similar footprints to the Tonawanda house. I finally found it "driving" down one block and spying a corner of the sun room around the corner. 920 Highland Ave, Pelham Manor, NY

920 Highland Ave, Pelham Manor, NY

The House in Tonawanda isn't exactly like the original Pelham Manor house. The foot print is slightly different and the Tonawanda house has two sets of balconies where the Pelham Manor house has only one . The original house also has an enclosed portico and the layout inside is slightly different. Both houses lost their original shingles to vinyl and the Pelham Manor house also lost all of the decorative rafter tails - an element that makes the house so special. They also added an extra room off the kitchen (made into an open plan) because the sun room is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter to use. The Tonawanda house still has the original French tile roof.