By Elizabeth Riggs
We all know why the fourth of July is such a special date in American history — it’s the day our country was founded by our forefathers. But what Western New Yorkers may not know is that we share a home with several other historic sites that also have an impressive significance in our nation’s history.
In East Aurora is the only remaining site of our 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore. On Shearer Avenue, you will find his small, clapboard house where he lived with his wife, Abigail, until 1930 when they moved to Buffalo.
Fillmore was born in Cayuga County in 1800, and began studying law when he was 18. He preferred a small practice to a larger firm, so he moved to East Aurora and was the town’s only lawyer. In East Aurora, Fillmore rose to prominence, eventually elected the State Legislature and climbed the ranks from there. While many would imagine a presidential home to be grand and extravagant, Fillmore’s home truly defines the term “humble beginnings.”
Fillmore’s home, located at 24 Shearer Avenue in East Aurora, is open for tours from June through October on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1-4 p.m., or by private appointment. Visit the Millard Fillmore House website, www.millardfillmorehouse.org or call 716-652-8875 for more information.
Further on the subject of President Fillmore, he was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, a historic 269-acre cemetery with a variety of historic monuments, mausoleums and sculptures. Forest Lawn also has several famous permanent residents, including Fillmore, singer Rick James, Community Activist Stephanie-Lady Smothers and Inventor Lawrence Dale Bell.
Each year, from June through October, Forest Lawn has a full schedule of guided tours in their infamous trolley, many by theme. During the winter months, the cemetery hosts their famous Sunday in the Cemetery Concert and Lecture Series in the historic Forest Lawn Chapel. For more information on Forest Lawn, visit their website: www.forest-lawn.com.
Another registered historic monument in the state of New York is the Buffalo History Museum, which was built in 1901 as the New York State Building for the Pan American Exposition. This world fair is now primarily remembered, unfortunately, as the location of President William McKinley’s assassination.
Though many of the exposition buildings were later torn down, Historical Society remained and today is home to more than 100,000 physical objects and over 200,000 photographs and 20,000 books which help shape our understanding of Western New York’s story.
For history buffs, the Buffalo History Museum also has major collections on the Holland Land Company, U.S. President Millard Fillmore, Seneca Indians, Buffalo Bills, the Pan-American Exposition, the Larkin Company, and much more. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $2.50 for children 7-12. Veterans admission is free. Visit their website for more information at www.buffalohistory.org.
Further on the topic of President McKinley, the only known marker of his assassination is a boulder placed in a grassy median on Fordham Drive in Buffalo.
Also related to the unfortunate assassination of President McKinley is the Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration Site, located at 614 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo. The site is the only National Park Service site in Western New York, and the place where Roosevelt took the oath of office on Sept.14, 1901 immediately after McKinley’s death. Originally built in 1839, it was the home of Ansley Wilcox and his wife Mary Grace Rumsey at the time of inauguration, but the building was originally constructed as the Buffalo Barracks in an effort to ensure border security due to tensions between the U.S. and Anglo-Canada at the time.
The site is open year-round by guided tours only, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on weekdays and 12:30 p.m. on weekends, until 3:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, $4 for children 6-18 and free for children under 5. For more information visit their website: www.trsite.org.
Speaking of Roosevelts, Springville natives, did you know that native songwriter Jack Yellen penned “Happy Days Are Here Again,” best remembered as the campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s successful 1932 presidential campaign? According to Time Magazine, it gained prominence after a spontaneous decision by Roosevelt’s advisers to play it at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, and went on to become the Democratic Party’s “unofficial theme song for years to come.”
While there are surely many, many more ties to our nation’s history in Western New York, these are great starting points. So, get out there and add a little history, education and patriotism to your adventures this summer! For more great ideas on historical daytrips and sites to see around the Western New York area, check out the Visit Buffalo Niagara website: www.visitbuffaloniagara.com.