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By Bob Kostoff

In the many writings about the illustrious pioneer Porter family, the emphasis is on the males who contributed so much to the community.

But, as the saying goes, behind every successful man is an energetic woman. And one such was the first girl born to Judge Augustus Porter and his wife. The girl, named Lavinia, was born in the Porter mansion on Buffalo Avenue near Goat Island on Sept. 7, 1810.

Augustus Porter settled in the area in 1806, living in the John Stedman house at Schlosser, near where the Power Authority intakes are now located. Two years later, he built his large house beside the upper rapids, where Lavinia and his other children were born.

City historian Marjorie Williams researched the Porter women and wrote about Lavinia in the early 1950s.

She wrote, "Lavinia E. Porter was truly a pioneer of this village. She was most active and supportive of the First Presbyterian Church."

Judge Porter's home was at first the center of community life in the emerging village. He was also postmaster, and the post office was in his house.

When Lavinia was but two years old, the War of l812 broke out. Her father was busy supplying the troops, and her uncle Peter B. Porter was a general in the state militia that fought in the war.

When the situation became dangerous, Mrs. Porter took young Lavinia and two sons to live in Canandaigua for the duration. They returned after the war in 1815, but the beautiful mansion, along with all their goods, had been destroyed in the British and Indian scorched-earth raid of 1813.

The family lived in a small house near the Eagle Tavern while Augustus had the mansion rebuilt bigger and better than ever. As the center of community life, the mansion received many visitors, including Native Americans. The famed Seneca chief Red Jacket was a frequent visitor.

The Porters even played host to General Lafayette when he made his triumphant return tour of the United States in 1825. Lavinia and her sister helped their mother with the work involved in all this entertaining. They also had a huge hand in making the many goods needed in the household, such as soap and candles, and doing chores such as spinning, knitting and sewing.

In 1839, Mrs. Porter died.

Williams wrote, "Lavinia efficiently and calmly made a home for her father and brother Peter, who had not married. She performed as lady of the mansion with grace and charm."

Lavinia was also deeply religious and involved in charity work, especially with the nearby First Presbyterian Church, which her father had helped build.

Taking good care of his children, Augustus built a home for one son at Buffalo Avenue and First Street, then one for another son on the south side of Buffalo Avenue near the Porter mansion.

Lavinia decided she wanted her house near Third Street on the north side of Buffalo Avenue. Not having married, she donated use of her new home to the church. She kept ownership of the home, but charged no rent and stipulated the home would revert to the church upon her death.

Williams said the house contained a couple of parlors, a huge kitchen and pantry, large and airy bedrooms, and cathedral ceilings. Lavinia completely furnished the house.

The first minister to move his family into the home was Rev. Alexander McColl, who accepted the call to this parish in 1856.

Lavinia died in 1863. The family had chiseled on her grave marker, "First pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 15, 2010