Historic building may soon be razed
Even though the local State Parks office reaps $20 million annually from its operations in Niagara Falls State Park and $3 million a year from Niagara Greenway, it seems they can’t spare a few dollars for a new roof on the historic DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn, and insiders say the distinguished and celebrated structure is again, as it was a few years ago, under threat of being flattened by their wrecking ball.
Formerly the location of a private school attended and fondly remembered by hundreds of local residents, the grounds of DeVeaux Woods State Park feature several buildings, the oldest of which is the Carriage Barn, a brick structure built in 1863, the same year President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
State Parks wanted to knock it down back in the spring of 2011, but local residents and city politicians mounted a frenzied, last minute and ultimately successful appeal to the state agency to reconsider its ill-advised decision.
At the time, with demolition only days away, local historian, author of numerous books about Niagara Falls and frequent State Parks honoree Paul Gromosiak tipped off the Niagara Falls Reporter, which alerted the public in a series of articles of the impending outrage against our history and our heritage. State Parks relented, put up some “No Trespassing” signs, slapped a tarp over the badly-deteriorated roof and walked away, granting a reprieve for the stately Civil War-era building.
Then came the devastating windstorm of March 8, 2017, with gusts in excess of 80 mph causing widespread damage and power outages across Western New York and particularly Niagara Falls. The makeshift tarpaulin protecting the Carriage Barn was violently blown off, completely exposing the decayed wooden rafters and interior of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to the elements. And State Parks has clearly made no effort during the ensuing three months to address the situation.
“I’ve heard the state is going to demolish the structure,” a city preservation advocate, who wished to remain anonymous, told us three days ago, in a near panic, “demolish as in sometime this week!”
The powers-at-be who are in a position to call the shots with regards to what takes place on state parkland here in Niagara Falls should take note of a 2002 court case initiated by the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, which sued the state over its neglect of the H.H. Richardson complex on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, a 19th century psychiatric campus that was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Vacant since 1974, the architectural masterpiece was being allowed by the state to deteriorate beyond remediation when the Coalition took it to court under the legal premise that if the state owns such an historic landmark building, it needs to do more than sit on its hands decade after decade until the edifice disintegrates.
It was also a test case of a state law that had been sponsored by a certain late Assemblyman Bill Hoyt, father of Empire State Development WNY Regional President Sam Hoyt, which required the state to maintain landmark buildings that it owns. How ironic would it be for the Carriage Barn to be torn down during Sam’s watch?
Today, the H.H. Richardson complex is the site of a signature hotel, resort and conference center in downtown Buffalo.
It’s no surprise that Niagara Falls City Councilman Ken Tompkins has already “stepped up to the plate” and is working to save the Carriage Barn.
“(State Senator Robert) Ortt’s office is helping me on this,” responded Tompkins to our inquiry, “I’ve reached out to (Western District Director and newly-minted Assistant Deputy Commissioner) Mark Thomas and to (Assemblymember) Angelo Morinello and our (Niagara Falls) Historic Preservation Committee.”
It’s time the NYS Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation lived up to the “Preservation” part of its name, and spent some of the riches they accrue from our local tourism industry to repair and reuse the DeVeaux Woods Carriage Barn, which could also serve as a useful attraction for the adjacent Schoellkopf Hall, which is the lead candidate in a recently-released State Parks RFP for a proposed “lodge.”