The “James” of Jamestown is James Prendergast, the youngest of eleven children in a family that bought 3,500 acres of mostly pine forest in 1806. James would purchase 1,000 of those acres from his brother for $2 an acre with a mind to starting a settlement and manufacturing lumber at a spot of rapids on the Chadakoin River. By 1809 Prendergast had built a cabin and a dam, a saw mill and grist mill soon followed.
Weathering several fires, Prendergast persevered in his enterprise and in 1815 lots fifty by one hundred twenty feet were surveyed and placed on the market at $50 each. Settlers indeed followed and in 1827 Jamestown was incorporated into a village. Among the early settlers were a number of skilled woodworkers who crafted furniture for the pioneering families coming to western New York.
By 1830 Jamestown was shipping forty million board feet of timber per year and the busy mills chewed up the stands of first class pine timber by 1840. In 1849 Swedish immigrants, many of whom were cabinet makers, began to settle in Jamestown. The first Swedish manufacturer of furniture in Jamestown, Augustus Johnson, began making doors in 1869 and the population would grow to be predominantly Swedish for many generations. By 1920 there were 15,025 people of Swedish birth or parentage in Jamestown, making the Swedes the city’s largest ethnic group.
More than 5,000 workers would be engaged by the 1900s in lumber-related factories and Jamestown would fashion itself the “Furniture Capital of the World.” Furniture-making remained Jamestown’s largest industry well into the 20th century and the city still hosts a handful of major furniture plants today.
Jamestown boasts an eclectic roster of native sons and daughters including actress and comedienne Lucile Ball, jurist Robert H. Jackson, birdwatching guru Roger Tory Peterson, National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, and alternative rock musician Natalie Merchant and her band 10,000 Maniacs. And our walking tour will commence where many of the first citizens of Jamestown once rested...
West Sixth and Washington Streets
The first cemetery in Jamestown was established in 1815 in a pasture on the nob of a hill at Fourth and Clinton streets. The people were never happy with the remote location and rocky ground of the original graveyard (residents dug their own graves at the time). Fortunately, it didn’t get much use - in the first 12 years of settlement only five adults and 12 to 14 children died. In 1822 a new cemetery was designated here and all but one body reinterred. With the town growing, however, this burial ground was a busy place and by 1858 plans were hatched for today’s expansive Lake View Cemetery at North Main and Buffalo streets. Its most famous resident is Lucille Ball, who was buried in the Highland Section of Lake View Cemetery in 1989 after she died at the age of 77 following heart surgery. Today’s 1.5-acre, city-block Dow Park offers a passive green respite.
EXIT DOW PARK AT THE SOUTHEAST CORNER AT CHERRY STREET AND WEST SIXTH STREET. WALK SOUTH ON CHERRY STREET ONE BLOCK TO FIFTH STREET.
James Prendergast Library Association
509 Cherry Street
In 1879 James Prendergast, the grandson of the city’s founder, died at the age of 31. In his memory his parents constructed this library at a cost of $60,000. In addition it was furnished with a $45,000 art gallery. Architect A.J. Warner of Rochester designed the building in the Richardsonian Romanesque style in the fashion of the leading architect of the day, Henry Hobson Richardson. It features trademarks of the style such as rough-faced stone, a corner turret and triplet arched windows. Following Mary Prendergast’s instructions, the stone steps leading to the building from Fifth Street were cut from a single stone “...to eliminate the havoc that frost works with masonry in this climate.” The Prendergast Library opened on December 1, 1891 with 8,666 volumes available for check-out.
TURN LEFT ON FIFTH STREET, WALKING EAST.
northwest corner of Fifth and Main streets
In the 1880s forty-something Robert Newland Marvin was known around Jamestown as the town’s most eligible bachelor as he managed his father’s prosperous business and extensive estate. In 1889, 24-year old beauty Elizabeth Warner, daughter of Lucius Bolles Warner, furniture manufacturer and prime mover behind the Jamestown Street Railway and other town interests, won Marvin’s heart. After their wedding Marvin purchased an eight-room farmhouse owned by Mrs. Richard Lewis here and renovated it into one of the most well-regarded houses in western New York. Through her life Mrs. Marvin made the house available for charitable benefits and after her death in 1950 the Elizabeth Warner Marvin Community House was incorporated. Her will stated that the home be opened to women’s groups whose purpose is “the moral and mental improvement of women in literary, musical, educational, patriotic, scientific and historical fields.”
413 North Main Street at southwest corner of Fifth Street
George Washington Tew arrived in Jamestown as a tinsmith. He became a lawyer and eventually became president of the City National Bank. His sons followed him into the corner office at the bank. In 1880 George Washington Tew, Jr. purchased this property and began construction of this fine brick French Second Empire home. The first building on this site was a two-story barn-like structure constructed by James Prendergast in 1816 as the first schoolhouse in Jamestown. Students at the Prendergast Academy were drilled in English, Grammar and Latin. In 1828 the school moved out and the First Congregational Church moved in, remaining until 1869. The Tew family sold the house in 1895 for $25,000 and the building commenced duty as the Jamestown Club, an exclusive men’s club. The club disbanded in 1923 and the building was purchased by Charles Goodell who used it as offices for his medical practice. After the Goodells departed in 1979 the grand mansion was slated for demolition but was saved by the Gebbie Foundation and restored as the historic northern gateway to the town.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET AND WALK A HALF-BLOCK DOWN.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
410 North Main Street
The Episcopalians of Jamestown organized in 1834 but did not have a house of worship until 1856 when a wooden meetinghouse was raised on this corner. The church burned in 1862 and on its foundation was constructed this fire-proof church of Medina sandstone. The clock tower contains the only chime of bells in Jamestown. Adolphus Fletcher, who learned the printing trade in Worcester, Massachusetts, churned out Jamestown’s first newspaper on a wooden printing press on the second floor of a wooden building on this site. The first issue of the Jamestown Journal appeared on the streets on June 21, 1826. The building was removed in 1854 to make room for the original St. Luke’s church.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO FIFTH STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING TO WALK EAST.
15 East Fifth Street
George Ahrens used his coal and oil fortune to build what was widely regarded as the most elaborate residence in Jamestown in 1898. The Beaux Arts mansion is accessed through a colonnade of impressive fluted Ionic columns. The columns were carved in a single piece and transported to the site.
First Covenant Church
520 Spring Street at Fifth Street
At least seven Swedish-speaking congregations were founded in Jamestown through the years, the first being the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church in 1852. The First Covenant Church was established in 1879. Its meetinghouse from 1897 perished in a fire in 1950 and the current Neo-Colonial church was ready for service in 1952.
First Presbyterian Church
509 Prendergast Avenue at Fifth Avenue
The First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1834 by Reverend E. J. Gillett, ministering to 41 members of the Congregational church having withdrawn to unite in its formation. In 1837 a substantial church edifice was built of wood, on the corner of West Third and Cherry streets. This building was burned in 1877, but was replaced with this commodious brick edifice, the interior of which was destroyed by fire in 1890.
TURN RIGHT AT PRENDERGAST AVENUE.
Robert H. Jackson Center
305 East Fourth Street at
In 1832 Alonzo Kent arrived in Jamestown from his native New England with the proverbial 50 cents in his pocket. He began his life in town by setting up a writing school before entering the dry goods business. In 1853 he opened a bank in his store that a decade later would become the First National Bank of Jamestown. By that time Kent had also built one of the largest hotels on Lake Chautauqua and bought a farm to indulge his passion for fast racehorses. In 1858 Kent built this exuberant Italianate mansion, the first brick home in Jamestown. Inside, the house was crafted from the finest woods. After the Kent family passed on the property was used as a Masonic lodge house and in 2001 title passed to the Robert H. Jackson Center. Pennsylvania-born Robert H. Jackson moved with his family to the Jamestown area in 1897 when he was five years old. With only a high school education, Jackson apprenticed in a law office and attended Albany Law School for a year which was enough for him to pass the New York State Bar and become a noted Jamestown trial lawyer. After twenty years of private practice he was tapped by Franklin Roosevelt to serve as general counsel at the Internal Revenue Service in 1934. Within a decade he went on to become Solicitor General, Attorney General and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Jackson capped one of America’s finest judicial careers as Chief of Counsel for the United States at the first Nuremberg Trial in 1945 and 1946.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF PRENDERGAST AVENUE AT EAST SECOND STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
The Lucille Ball Little Theater
18-24 East Second Street
Abner E. Allen was Jamestown’s leading showman of the late 19th century, operating Allen’s Opera House in the 1870s. He located at this site in 1881 after a fire destroyed his venue on East Third Street. Another fire in 1894 drove him to sell his theater to Charles Samuels who eventually sold out to the Shea’s theater chain of New York City in 1919. Little Theatre, one of America’s finest community theaters, purchased the property in 1967. In 1929 an aspiring young would-be actress named Lucile Ball was cast in a Little Theatre production of “Within the Law.” It was the first time she ever appeared on stage.
Bank of Jamestown
northeast corner of Second and Main streets
The Bank of Jamestown was incorporated in 1902 and operated under that name until a series of mergers with the American National Bank of Jamestown and the Farmers and Mechanics Bank in 1931. This four-story Neoclassical headquarters anchoring a prime downtown intersection was designed in 1917 by New York architect A.J. Bodker.
Furniture Exposition Building
corner of Second Street and Washington Street
By some counts, in 1900 Jamestown was home to 104 furniture factories and related industries. At the peak of the boom, Jamestown was second only to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the manufacturing of wood furniture. In 1917, Jamestown opened its nine-story Furniture Exposition building and began twice yearly furniture markets.
Erie Railroad Station
211-217 West Second Street
The first train chugged into Jamestown on August 25, 1861 on the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad. By 1865 a passenger depot was erected at the foot of Cherry Street that would serve the town for over three decades. This Art Deco station, designed by Erie Railroad architect Graham King, was dedicated in 1932, providing a streamlined, modern welcome for travelers between New York and Chciago.
TURN RIGHT ON LAFAYETTE STREET.
Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena
319 West Third Street
Featuring two state-of-the-art hockey rinks, the community skating arena opened in 2002 as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization. It is the home of the Jamestown Skating Club, organized in 1971, and has hosted minor league hockey franchises off and on.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST THIRD STREET.
110 West Third Street
In 1893 Reuben W. Bigelow and Charles F. Abrahamson teamed up to bring high-quality goods to Jamestown shoppers. By the time the core of this building was constructed in 1906, Bigelow’s was the larger of the city’s two department stores. The building would eventually grow to six stories before the landmark retailer sputtered out of existence in 1979. When the grand department store was renovated into housing in 2002 the building had settled and interior columns were jacked up to allow a new foundation to be laid.
112 West Third Street
The 10-story Neo-Georgian Hotel Jamestown was the hotel of choice for Jamestown businesses to put up visiting clients. Opened with a gala New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1924, the hotel featured a Crystal Ballroom and mezzanine dining rooms.
Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center
2-10 West Third Street
Born August 6, 1911 and raised in Jamestown, Lucille Desiree Ball left high school at the age of 15 to pursue an acting career in New York City. She found little success as a model or as a chorus girl but a gig as poster girl for Chesterfield cigarettes in propelled her to Hollywood in 1933. She appeared in over 60 films without making much impression on the public. In 1950 she was offered a project on the new medium of television and under the guidance of her husband, Cuban band leader Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy became the most popular show on television and Lucille Ball became the most famous comic actress in history. Behind the camera, their production company became the world’s largest television producing machine which she would eventually sell for $17 million in 1967. The center manages two facilities: the Desilu Playhouse that features complete re-creations of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s New York City apartment from I Love Lucy and other sets and the Lucy-Desi Museum is stuffed with costumes, awards, photographs and other memorabilia.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
306 North Main Street
The Italianate style dominated commercial architecture across America’s downtowns after the Civil War. Here, these well-tended survivors were constructed in 1876. They exhibit ornate window hoods and decorative cornices at the roofline.
CONTINUE ON MAIN STREET TO SIXTH STREET AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN DOW PARK.