The Whitney Mansion (335 Buffalo Ave.) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡] Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS NY-6153], Jack E. Boucher, photographer, 1965.
The Whitney Mansion, built of Medina limestone with a monumental Ionic porch, looms large on a riverside site in the city of Niagara Falls. The house is set back on the south side of Buffalo Avenue, traditionally the city's most fashionable residential street; and since its construction in 1849 the house has been crowded in by later nineteenth century and early twentieth century residences. While the Whitney Mansion has become increasingly detached from Buffalo Avenue to the north, its relationship with the Niagara Rapids to the south has remained unimpaired. The Robert Moses Parkway cuts the city of Niagara Falls off from the river; however, the road does not intrude on the tranquility of the Whitney Mansion site since it was constructed under the bluff on which the house stands.
The eastern section of the Whitney Mansion is the original portion. The front (north) elevation facing Buffalo Avenue is three bays wide with a two-story high pedimented porch supported by four heavy Ionic columns. The east facade is two bays wide and the south facade three bays wide with an entrance opening out onto the lawn. All the first floor windows on the north, south and east facades extend to the floor, and the front doorway has a glass transom over the wooden doors. The gable roof has a wide dentilled cornice, and the sole third floor window in the southern gable looks out on a small cast iron balcony from which the view of the Niagara Rapids is at its most spectacular.
The Greek detailing on the exterior carries through to the interior woodwork of the original section of the house. The layout is a standard Greek Revival one  with a hall and stairway on the west side and a double living room (which was probably a livingroom and a dining room originally) on the east side. These rooms are essentially intact with two early mantels along the eastern wall, centered plaster "ceiling roses" with hanging lighting fixtures, the original staircase, simple Greek Revival moldings.
The later nineteenth century additions to the house extend in an ell on the west side more than doubling its size. The same limestone was used, and attention was taken to duplicate sections of the elegant Greek Revival cornice for portions of the addition. The same simple stone lintels and sills were used. On the other hand, later Victorian elements, bay windows, gabled and rounded dormers also grace the additions contributing a new levity and capricious asymmetry to the dignified well-balanced demeanor of the original house.
These additions allowed for a library and dining room to the west of the hallway as well as a new kitchen and extensive servants' quarters in the smaller two-story southwest section. The principal rooms are still little changed except for a recent mural painted on the dining room wall. The library, a north room lit by the bay window, is trimmed in black walnut and is separated by a sliding doors from the dining room. A side entrance on the west facade is sheltered by a pedimented hood with a wide dentilled cornice resting on a pair of incongruously slender Ionic columns.
The self-confident, sophisticated Greek Revival Whitney Mansion is an architectural maverick in a city that grew late in the nineteenth century.
Niagara Falls was not chartered as a city until 1892 making it one of the "latest bloomers" of New York State cities. In 1860, French Gazetteer of New York State described Niagara Falls as a village of under 3,000 residents (1/3 the size of neighboring Lockport) totally built around the tourist industry.
"The village owes its existence to its proximity to the great cataract. Thousands of visitors, from every part of the U.S. and from almost every country in the world, annually visit this, one of nature's greatest wonders. Nearly all business of the community is connected with this periodical visitation and consists of hotel-keeping, livery business, and matters of kindred nature.
Thus it seems appropriate enough that the grandest house in the village, the Whitney Mansion, was built by the son of General Parkhurst Whitney, a village founder and the owner of the Cataract House and The Eagle Tavern, the village's oldest and most prominent hotels. Young Solon Whitney chose a site on the fringes of the village overlooking the rapids. When he bought the land, lots 60 and 61 on the "Mile Strip," in 1837 Whitney is said to have set out trees and apparently planned to build immediately as the foundations were laid out at that time. However, the Patriot's War of 1837-8 intervened to stall these plans. Whitney served first as quatermaster in charge of troop supplies and rations and later as the major-general's aide-de-camp elevating his own rank to major. Possibly the widespread depression in the years following the financial panic of 1837 also contributed to delays on the house which lay on the drawing board from 1837 to 1849.
Meanwhile Solon Whitney continued in the family hotel business with his father and two brother-in-laws. In 1846 he married Frances Drake whose father, appropriately enough, owned the famed United States Hotel and Congress Hall in Saratoga Springs at the other end of the state. According to the Niagara Falls Gazette of February 14, 1883 the Whitneys began building again in 1849 and moved into their new house finally in 1851. They apparently did not deviate from the original Greek Revival plan, and yet later in the 1860's when the additions were made they capitulated to some of the new architectural trends with bay window dormers and asymmetrical arrangement of windows.
While his home became the social center of the growing village, Solon Whitney's hotel, the Cataract House, was visited by a host of distinguished figures of the era including key political personalities — Clay, Webster, Calhoun and Lincoln. Whitney branched out from the hotel business. He promoted and was president of the Niagara Falls Gas Works and also served as director of the Cataract Bank as well as president of the Village Council.
At the ripe age of 92, Major Solon Myron Napoleon Whitney died on February 19, 1907. His life had spanned almost the entire nineteenth century, and he had watched the resort village of Niagara Falls inhabited by less than 3,000 grow into a highly developed industrial city of 30,000. Few familiar landmarks of Whitney's early life had survived this tremendous expansion with the exception of his house which remained in the Whitney family until the 1930's. Edwin Whitney sold the house to A.H. Zimmerman of Moore Business Forms. A few years later Zimmerman sold it to Edward Franchot, a prominent Niagara Falls lawyer and brother-in-law of Frank J. Tone, a distinguished inventor, electrochemist, electrometallurgist, one of the founders of Carborundum Company and its president from 1919 to 1942. The Carborundum Company bought the house from the Franchots in 1953 to use as a company guest house and from 1960 until his death in 1962 General Clinton Robinson, president of Carborundum Company lived there. In 1962 the Whitney Mansion was sold again to the University Club as a residence for young executives.
An important and locally almost unique example of Greek Revival residential architecture, the triumphant Whitney Mansion is an architectural "throwback" which was finished in 1851 just as it was planned in the 1830's. Built as a product of the wealth generated by the early tourist industry of Niagara Falls and later associated with one of the city's most important businesses, the Carborundum Company, the Whitney Mansion is a distinctive landmark tied to two major themes of Niagara Falls' history.
Carborundum Company "335 Buffalo Avenue" (Guide to the Carborundum Guest House) c.1955.
French, J.H. Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State. R.P. Smith, Syracuse: 1860.
Hamlin, Talbot, Greek Revival Architecture in America, Oxford University Press: 1944.
Williams, E.T. "March of Time Brings Many Changes to Old Niagara: Niagara Falls Gazette. December 31, 1937.
‡Brooke, Cornelia E., The Whitney Mansion,