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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
New York
Roosevelt (Theodore) Inaugural National Historic
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural
National Historic Site

Erie County, 641 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo.

This national historic site features the Ansley Wilcox House. There, on September 14, 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt recited the Presidential oath of office following the death of President McKinley, who had been shot by an assassin a few days earlier. The residence is among the few inaugural sites outside of Washington. Also, as one of the oldest houses in the city of Buffalo, it possesses local historical and architectural significance.

The site on which the structure stands was originally part of the Holland Land Company's holdings in western New York. Ebenezer Walden, who acquired it in 1809, leased it to the Federal Government in 1838 for use as a military base. That year, three artillery companies established Poinsett Barracks on the site. A row of officers' quarters ran along present Delaware Avenue. One of these, a two-story, two-family, brick edifice whose huge portico faced the parade ground, became the nucleus of the Ansley Wilcox House. It is the only surviving building of the barracks, in whose social life Buffalo lawyer Millard Fillmore had frequently participated.

In 1847, after troops had abandoned the post, the structure passed into private hands. Attorney Albert P. Laning, who owned it from 1863 until 1881, added a 1-1/2-story frame service wing and basement to its east (present rear) facade and dug a full basement under the main section. He also apparently moved the portico to the Delaware Avenue (front) facade and built a central doorway.

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site (National Park Service, Frear, 1971.)

In 1883 Dexter P. Rumsey purchased the house as a wedding gift for his daughter Mary Grace and her husband, Ansley Wilcox, a prominent Buffalo lawyer. In the 1890's the latter hired local architect George Cary to effect a remodeling. Except for the construction of a bay window on the south side of the residence and the addition of some ornamented glass panels in the entrance way, Cary left the main section as it was. He tripled the size of the entire structure, however, by replacing the frame service wing with a 2-1/2-story brick addition over a basement. The result was a stately mansion, which was flavored with Greek Revival and Adamesque styles and seasoned with 19th-century eclecticism.

One of Wilcox's close friends was Theodore Roosevelt, who called on him whenever he happened to be in Buffalo. Not long after he was inaugurated as Vice President, in May 1901 Roosevelt officiated at the opening there of the Pan-American Exposition. Later that year, on September 6 while visiting the exposition, President McKinley was shot by an assassin; he was moved to the Milburn House at 1168 Delaware Avenue, which is no longer extant.

Roosevelt, who was then in Vermont on a speaking trip, rushed by train to Buffalo, where members of the Cabinet had begun to assemble to carry on governmental affairs. After spending a few anxious days at the Wilcox House, on September 10, the condition of the President seemingly better after surgery, Roosevelt joined his family for an outing in the Adirondacks. Three days later, he learned by messenger that McKinley was close to death. By the time he arrived back in Buffalo the next afternoon, the President had passed away.

After paying his respects to Mrs. McKinley, Roosevelt met with several Cabinet members and Government officials in the library of the Wilcox House. There, at 3:15 p.m., on September 14, 1901, he took the Presidential oath of office. That same day, in another room he drafted his first official document, a proclamation announcing McKinley's death and designating September 19 as a day of national mourning.

The Wilcoxes continued to live in the house until their deaths in the 1930's. Subsequently, it served as a restaurant and underwent considerable interior alteration. In 1963, when the structure faced demolition, a group of Buffalo citizens formed a committee to save it. Under the committee's auspices, in 1964 the Liberty National Bank purchased the residence. Two years later, Congress designated it as a national historic site.

In 1969 the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Inc., organized 2 years earlier, and the National Park Service entered into a cooperative agreement for the restoration and administration of the site. These organizations, aided by the New York Historic Trust, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, and other groups in the area, have completed work on the exterior of the structure, the front hall and staircase, and the first-floor Library Room, where Roosevelt was inaugurated. Adjacent rooms will be used as orientation and exhibit areas; the remainder of the house will be made available to private organizations for activities compatible with the historic surroundings. Portions of the building are now open to the public.

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Last Updated: 04-Feb-2004