The building that stands at 641 Delaware Avenue is preserved today as the site of Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 inauguration. However, it has a long and colorful history as one of Buffalo's oldest homes.
The structure that now houses the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site was likely originally built as the officers' headquarters for a United States Army installation called Poinsett Barracks or Buffalo Barracks. A minor insurrection in Canada in 1837 known as the Patriots' War prompted the U.S. Government to station federal troops here in Buffalo. Many citizens living in Buffalo at the time still remembered the events of 25 years earlier when their village was burned to the ground by the British during the War of 1812, and were relieved to see the growing city protected this time. The barracks that were built in 1839-40 on the outskirts of the village became the largest military installation in the U.S. of that period. One occupant of the home during this period was Ann Mackall Taylor Wood, wife of the post surgeon, and a daughter of future president Zachary Taylor.
Time, peace and the growth of Buffalo quickly numbered the days of the Buffalo Barracks. By 1845, President Tyler had made a visit to the area and selected a waterfront site for a new and permanent installation to be known as Fort Porter. The Poinsett Barracks was abandoned and mostly dismantled, although the officers' quarters survived to become a private residence.
The house along with the surrounding property were sold by owner Ebenezer Walden. Many prominent men successively made the mansion their home. Joseph Masten was a lawyer, judge and mayor of Buffalo during his residence here from 1847-1863. Albert P. Laning was elected to the New York State Assembly while he owned this house from 1863 until his death in 1881. During his period of residence, he also was a law partner of future president Grover Cleveland.
In 1883, Dexter Rumsey purchased the house as a wedding gift for his daughter, Mary Grace, upon her marriage to Ansley Wilcox, a young and successful Buffalo lawyer. The Wilcox family made 641 Delaware Avenue their home from 1883-1933. It was during their residence here that Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States on September 14, 1901 following the assassination of President William McKinley. Ansley Wilcox and Theodore Roosevelt had already been friends for a number of years and had worked together as political reformers under Governor Cleveland.
The death of Mr. Wilcox in 1930, followed by that of his wife in 1933, left the house empty. In 1935 many of the furnishings were sold at auction and the house reverted back to the estate of Dexter Rumsey. Not long after the auction, a campaign led by the Spanish American War Veterans sought to establish the house as the "Theodore Roosevelt Institute for Better Citizenship." This effort failed, and as a result, the house was sold to Oliver Lawrence.
The Lawrence family remodeled the house into a restaurant. From 1938-1961 the Kathryn Lawrence Restaurant was the scene of many dinners enhanced by intriguing historical events.
After the closing of the restaurant in 1961, the continued existence of the mansion was very much in doubt. Commercial development along Delaware Avenue threatened its survival. Through the efforts of an organized campaign, the house was declared a National Historic Site by congressional law in 1966. It opened as a public museum on September 14, 1971.